Care for Our Air

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The EPA recently changed its standard for rating the quality of air in regard to ground-level ozone in the United States. The national human health standards for ozone have been lowered to 75 parts per billion, measured by monitoring equipment, including a monitor in Travis County. The upshot is that Travis County is now unofficially in non-attainment. Tailpipe emissions and electricity consumption (because of coal-powered plants that produce most of our electricity) are our chief contributions to dirt in the air. Our driving, mowing and energy consumption habits are creating high ozone concentrations affecting our health as well as the health of our vegetation and our economy.

The Clean Air Coalition has declared 2009 the year of “The Big Push” during the upcoming ozone season running from April 1st to October 31st, to reduce ozone formation by better control of air emission sources. Through concerted effort, Central Texas partners can prevent air quality conditions that would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to decide in 2010 that the air quality is insufficiently protective of human health (non-attainment status). The air pollution sources that are most important to address with the Big Push include voluntary reduction of vehicle emissions, changes in operations by businesses/government, and changes in personal and household behavior.

The consequences of dirty air affect our health and our economy. Health concerns due to high ozone include:

•    Shortness of breath
•    Coughing
•    Headaches
•    Nausea
•    Throat and lung irritation
•    Increased asthma attacks

High ozone is linked with increases in hospital admissions and school absences. Sensitive groups to ozone include children, the elderly, people with lung disease, and adults who are active in outdoor pursuits. In addition, high ozone levels affect vegetation by resulting in reduced crop yields, reduced survival of tree seedlings, and increased susceptibility of plants to disease and pests. Economic costs associated with high levels of ozone include increased health care, decreased property values, and diminished quality of life. Reducing air pollution is costly too in terms of planning, implementation and enforcement of air pollution control strategies.

As a member of the Clean Air Coalition, Travis County is implementing internal procedures to address high levels of ozone including:

•    Restrict county operations on Ozone Watch Days;
•    Institute a special Ozone Watch Day teleworking schedule;
•    Educate county employees on commuting options; and
•    Expand communications to Travis County citizens and county employees.

Travis County is encouraging other Clean Air Coalition members as well as major employers to join the effort.

What you can do:

•    Limit driving and delay errands. For short trips consider riding a bicycle or walking. Other options include carpooling, vanpooling, working at home, and teleconferencing.
•    Ride the bus. Plan your trip online.
•    Don’t let engines idle unnecessarily. When you can, avoid drive-thru services.
•    Minimize “cold starts” by combining trips. Emission levels are highest when vehicles are first started.
•    Postpone refueling your car until after 6:00 p.m. on hot, sunny days. This reduces the time that escaping fumes have to “cook” during the heat of the day and form ozone.
•    Maintain your vehicle for fuel efficiency. Maintain recommended tire pressure, replace air filters, keep the engine tuned up, and change the oil regularly for peak gas mileage.
•    Don’t overfill or “top off” the gas tank. The refueling process releases ozone-producing fumes. Check to see that the gas cap fits tightly.
•    Be sure that gasoline engines (including boats and mowers) are properly tuned and maintained. Ask that the catalytic converter on your vehicle be inspected for proper function.
•    Avoid traffic congestion. Whenever possible, drive during off-peak hours.
•    Avoid driving for your lunch break. Take a lunch to work or walk to lunch.

•    Apply paint with rollers and brushes (instead of sprays) to cut down on fumes.
•    Use latex paints rather than oil-based paints to cut back on ozone-forming fumes.
•    Compost yard waste (instead of burning it) to reduce air pollution.
•    Use an electric or push mower instead of a gasoline-powered mower. A typical gasoline-powered lawn mower generates as much air pollution per hour as 11 cars.
•    Ensure that when you dispose of a gasoline-powered mower that it is destroyed and unusable. Otherwise, it could be resold and it remains a pollutant source.
•    Use rakes, hand edgers, or brooms or other non-gasoline-powered equipment for other yard chores.
•    Conserve energy. Burning fossil fuels in the production of electricity is a source of pollution contributing to ozone formation.
•    Insulate and weather-strip your home.
•    Adjust thermostats to reduce electric consumption.
•    Run dishwashers and washing machines only with a full load.
•    Conserving water also conserves energy—it takes electricity to treat and deliver drinking water.

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