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Summer Smog Season Begins Tomorrow; EPA to Provide Free Forecasts and Real-Time Tracking

Release Date: 04/30/2003
Contact Information: Andrew Spejewski, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1014

BOSTON – With the warm weather season approaching, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urged New Englanders to be aware of the increased risk of ground-level ozone pollution (smog) and take health precautions when ozone levels are high. May 1st marks the beginning of the official smog season for EPA's ozone forecasting and tracking systems, available free to the public.

Unhealthy air quality readings have already been recorded this year in Connecticut on April 15.

In order to help New England residents prepare for poor air quality this summer, EPA and the New England states will provide real-time ozone data and air quality forecasts. The real-time air quality data and forecasts are available at http://www.epa.gov/region01/aqi. New at this web site this year is an interactive tool that allows individuals to access the most recent air quality index reading for ozone monitors in their area.

People can also sign up at this web address to receive "Smog Alerts." Smog Alert is a free service, provided by EPA in cooperation with the New England states, that automatically notifies participants by e-mail or fax when high concentrations of ground-level ozone are predicted in their area. Smog Alerts are issued throughout the summer smog season, May through September.

"Ground-level ozone smog is a significant public health threat in the Northeast," said Robert W. Varney, EPA New England's regional administrator. "New Englanders should pay attention to ozone warnings and limit strenuous outdoor activity during smog alert days, but they should also take individual actions to reduce the air pollution which creates this public health risk."

Throughout the summer, whenever ground-level ozone concentrations are predicted to exceed the national health standard in areas in New England, EPA and the states will announce that the following day will be an "Ozone Action Day" in these areas. EPA asks that on Ozone Action Days, citizens and businesses take special care to help reduce air pollution and protect the public health. Citizens can help reduce ozone-smog by taking the following actions:

    • use public transportation or walk whenever possible;
    • if you must drive, go in car pools and combine trips;
    • go to the gas station at night to cut down on gasoline vapors getting into the air during daylight hours when the sun can cook the vapors and form ozone;
    • use less electricity - turn air conditioning to a higher temperature setting, turn out lights and computers when you're not using them;
    • avoid using gasoline-powered engines, such as lawn mowers, chain saws and leaf blowers on unhealthy air days.
Ground level ozone is considered unhealthy when average concentrations exceed 0.08 parts per million over an eight-hour period. Poor air quality affects everyone, but some people are particularly sensitive to ozone, including children and adults who are active outdoors, and people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Exposure to elevated ozone levels can cause serious breathing problems, aggravate asthma and other pre-existing lung diseases and make people more susceptible to respiratory infection. When elevated ozone levels are expected, EPA recommends that people limit strenuous outdoor activity.

Ground-level ozone is formed when volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen interact in the presence of sunlight, particularly when temperatures are high. Ground-level ozone should not be confused with ozone in the "ozone layer" 10 to 30 miles above the earth, which protects from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.

Cars, trucks, and buses are a primary source of the pollutants that make smog. Fossil fuel burning at electric power plants, particularly on hot days, also generates significant smog-forming pollution. Gas stations, print shops, household products like paints and cleaners, as well as lawn and garden equipment, also contribute to smog formation.

The federal Clean Air Act has led to significant improvements in air quality over the past 20 years. In 2002, New England had 43 unhealthy days, compared to 90 unhealthy days in 1983.

EPA has taken a number of steps to further reduce air pollution. Beginning in 2004, tougher tailpipe emission standards for cars and light-duty trucks, including sport utility vehicles, and limits on the amount of sulfur in gasoline will result in dramatically cleaner vehicles. In addition, EPA has taken aggressive steps to reduce pollution from power plants upwind of New England. EPA is requiring 21 eastern states and the District of Columbia to reduce nitrogen oxides by approximately one million tons by 2004.

Also, the Administration's Clear Skies Initiative that establishes mandatory reduction targets for emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury from power plants nationwide was recently introduced into the U.S. House and Senate. The Clear Skies Initiative would reduce emissions of these three key pollutants by 70 percent over the next 15 years.

Further improvements in air quality are also expected as states begin to develop plans to meet the new 8-hour health-based ozone standard adopted by EPA. The first step in this process is for areas to be designated attainment or nonattainment for the standard. Recommendations of potential nonattainment areas are due from states this summer and EPA will formally designate areas by April 15, 2004.