Unhealthy Ozone Hits Houston Early

Cars drive on an eight lane expressway in Beijing on January 29,2013. Residents across northern China battled through choking pollution on January 29, as air quality levels rose above index limits in Beijing amid warnings that the smog may not clear until January 31. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAOIt seems too early in the year to worry about smog, right? Ozone is typically thought of as just a summertime problem. Unfortunately, not this year – and the health risks are troubling.

March 1 marked the beginning of ozone season in Houston – and April 3 was the first day in 2016 that a regulatory ozone monitor in Houston measured above 70 parts per billion (ppb), which is the level of the health standard established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. No other official air monitor in the state had recorded levels above 70ppb, meaning Houston is winning the early race for unhealthiest Texas air – which isn’t winning at all.

While stratospheric ozone plays a beneficial role by absorbing harmful ultraviolet rays, not all ozone is considered “good.” Ground-level ozone is a form of pollution, also known as smog, which can result in dangerous consequences for public health such as asthma attacks, and heart and lung disease.

In 2015, the 70ppb threshold was not broken in Houston until April 30, and in 2014, this level was not reached until May 5. Historically, this year’s elevated levels in April are reminiscent of 2011 and 2006, which experienced higher ozone levels than in recent years. In both of those years, the first day above the threshold was late March. Early dates for high ozone levels are concerning because they point to increased risk of exposure for Houston area residents, and the potential for a long and unhealthy ozone season this year.

Ozone typically peaks in the sweltering heat of July and August –we’ll be monitoring ozone more closely now since Houston has already experienced unhealthy air. These readings come at a particularly critical time as regional and state officials are beginning to plan for meeting the new ozone health standard, which was strengthened to 70ppb last year. We know that last year was particularly bad for smog, and now is the time to increase our efforts to address ozone pollution.

To learn more about ozone in Houston and how it may affect you and your family’s health, visit the Houston ozone map.

Photo source: AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO

This entry was posted in Air Pollution, Ozone. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.