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Free Tools to Protect Health as Summer Smog Season Begins

Release Date: 05/02/2011
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

(Boston, Mass. – May 2, 2011) – Today is the beginning of Air Quality Awareness Week, a cooperative effort among EPA, state environmental agencies and the National Weather Service to remind the public to protect their health by paying attention to local air quality.  With the onset of warmer weather, the EPA urges New Englanders to be aware of the increased risk of ground-level ozone air pollution and fine particle air pollution (when combined, often referred to as smog), and take health precautions when poor air quality is predicted.

Air quality forecasts are issued daily by the New England state air agencies.  Current air quality conditions and next day forecasts for New England are available each day at EPA’s web site. People can also sign up to receive “Air Quality Alerts.” These alerts, provided free by EPA through the EnviroFlash system, automatically notify participants by e-mail or text message when poor air quality is predicted in their area.

“Ground-level ozone and fine particle air pollution are significant public health concerns throughout New England," said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England Office.  “To protect your health, New Englanders should pay close attention to air quality warnings, limit their strenuous outdoor activity on air quality alert days, and help take steps to reduce emissions when air quality is unhealthy.”

Warm summer temperatures aid in the formation of ground-level ozone and fine particle pollution.  In 2008, EPA strengthened the ozone air quality health standard.  The new ozone standard is set at 0.075 parts per million on an 8-hour average basis.  Air quality alerts are issued when ozone concentrations exceed, or are predicted to exceed, this level.  Last year, EPA proposed to strengthen the ozone standard even further.  A final decision is scheduled for this summer.  EPA New England posts a list of air quality exceedances on its web site.

Poor air quality affects everyone, but some people are particularly sensitive to air pollutants, including children and adults who are active outdoors, and people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma.  When air quality is predicted to be unhealthy, EPA and the states will announce an air quality alert for the affected areas.  EPA recommends that people in these areas limit strenuous outdoor activity and EPA asks that on these days, residents and businesses take actions that will help reduce air pollution and protect the public health.  Everyone can reduce air pollution through the following actions:

-  use public transportation or walk whenever possible;
-  combine errands and car-pool to reduce driving time and mileage;
-  use less electricity by turning air conditioning to a higher temperature setting, and turning off lights, TVs and computers when they are not being used; and
-  avoid using small gasoline-powered engines, such as lawn mowers, chain saws and leaf blowers on unhealthy air days.

Cars, motorcycles, trucks, and buses are a primary source of the pollutants that make smog.  Fossil-fuel burning at electric-generating stations, particularly on hot days, also generates significant smog-forming pollution. Other industries, as well as smaller sources, such as gasoline stations and print shops, also contribute to smog.  In addition, household products like paints and cleaners, as well as gasoline-powered lawn and garden equipment, also contribute to smog formation.

The federal Clean Air Act has led to significant improvements in ozone air quality over the past 40 years and EPA continues to take steps to further reduce air pollution. For example, since 2004, new cars, sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and mini-vans are meeting stringent new emission standards. The requirements have resulted in new vehicles that are 77 to 95 percent cleaner than older models.  Also, EPA’s standards for new (starting with model year 2007) diesel trucks and buses are estimated to reduce NOx and fine particle emissions by up to 95 percent.

In addition, EPA has proposed a rule, known as the Transport Rule, which is expected to further improve air quality in the eastern US by reducing power plant emissions. This rule, which is expected to be finalized this summer, will require significant reductions in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions.

Sign up for Free Air Quality Alerts: (http://www.epa.gov/ne/aqi)

Air Quality Awareness Week: (http://www.epa.gov/airnow/airaware/index.html)

A list of past ozone exceedances by date and monitor location: (http://www.epa.gov/ne/airquality/o3exceed-11.html)

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