By Christine Hill

Learn how to protect yourself in the event of an Ozone Alert, and how you can help reduce ozone pollution everyday.

In our atmosphere, ozone is composed of good and bad levels of ozone. The ozone layer acts as a protective barrier above the Earth that shields us from ultraviolet radiation. The negative effects of ground-level ozone occur when emissions from cars and other pollutants react with sunlight and heat. Simple details such as the time of day you fill your car’s gas tank, drive your car or mow your lawn can all impact air quality as well, and in turn contribute to Ozone Alert days.

According to Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), an Ozone Alert is a warning given by SkyCast to advise the community of the predicted unhealthy amount of ozone concentration for the following day. Ground-level ozone pollutes the air and can make oxygen absorption in the lungs difficult, resulting in coughing and difficulty breathing. Ozone Alert days can be harmful to anyone, but are particularly taxing for children and individuals with asthma or other respiratory conditions.

On July 25, Kansas City had its first Ozone Alert of the year. During an Ozone Alert, notices are put on Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) buses’ overhead signs, broadcast by media outlets, and posted on MARC’s SkyCast. SkyCast is Kansas City’s Ozone forecast which rates air quality on a color scale of green, yellow, orange and red with green for good air quality, and red for an Ozone Alert.

“To reduce your personal contributions to ozone production during Ozone Alerts, think about those actions which involve burning fuels or have evaporation solvents,” says Doug Norsby, air quality planner at MARC.

In the event of another Ozone Alert this summer, MARC recommends the following precautions and actions.

  • Since ozone concentrations are lowest at the coolest times of the day, exercise before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m.
  • Try to keep outdoor activity to a minimum. It is important to stay in a building with a good air-filtration system. If your home does not have air conditioning, visit a library or community center.

To help reduce ozone pollution:

  • Check your vehicle’s tailpipe emissions with a free, 15-minute test at an Emissions Clinic. MARC Air Quality Program’s next Emissions Clinic is on Saturday, August 8 from 8 a.m. to noon on Jim Bills Road in Mission, KS. Visit www.marc.org for an update on the exact location of the clinic. An additional 30-second gas-cap test can determine if your gas cap has a leak. A leaky gas cap can waste up to a gallon of gas in two weeks, and contribute to compromised air quality.
  • Slow down when you drive. Speeding lowers gas mileage by 5 percent while driving in the city and 33 percent on the highway. Sudden breaking or acceleration also uses more fuel.
  • Don’t let your car idle and release harmful emissions for an extended amount of time.
  • Consider using public transit, biking or walking which all help reduce regional air pollution by reducing the amount of vehicles on the road, and in turn, the amount of ozone in the air. KCATA offers discounted bus fare of 75 cents on Ozone Alert days.
  • Wait to fill your gas tank or mow your lawn until after 7 p.m. Fueling during the day adds to the buildup of pollutants, while fueling in the evening allows fumes to dissipate at a faster rate. A gas lawn mower also releases fumes that dissipate overnight. Morning and daytime are the worst times to mow your lawn because released fumes are more likely to be released into the ozone.
  • Recycle and reuse to save energy. According to MARC, recycling saves energy by reusing materials and keeping them out of landfills, which can lessen the need for new manufactured items to be shipped around the country as often.

For more information, visit Mid-America Regional Council.