July 15, 2010

Montgomery County issues 'Code Orange Air Quality Action Day' for Friday, July 16

Tomorrow, Friday, July 16 has been forecast as a Code Orange Air Quality Action Day, indicating unhealthy air quality. As part of the region’s Air Quality Action Day program, Montgomery County takes voluntary actions to reduce its emissions of smog-forming chemicals, including ozone, and particulate matter. These voluntary actions include refueling County vehicles after dusk and curtailing median strip spraying, mowing and most asphalt paving. Residents are also urged to take the following steps to reduce harmful air emissions:

• Carpool, telecommute, or take mass transit to work;
• Limit driving and combine errands;
• Refuel after dark;
• Avoid using gasoline-powered lawn equipment, including mowers;
• Wait for a cooler day to use oil-based paints or switch to non-solvent or low VOC-based paints;
• Avoid using aerosols and household products that contain solvents;
• Avoid mid-day driving; or
• Conserve energy at home and work to reduce power demand.

Ozone is a major element of urban smog, and its presence can limit one’s ability to take a deep breath, or cause coughing, throat irritation, and breathing discomfort. There is also evidence that ozone can lower resistance to respiratory disease (such as pneumonia), damage lung tissue, and aggravate chronic lung disease (such as bronchitis). Children and those with pre-existing lung problems (such as asthma) are sensitive to the health effects of ozone. Even healthy adults involved in moderate or strenuous outdoor activities can experience the unhealthy effects of ozone.

Another air pollutant of concern in the Washington Metropolitan area is particulate matter. Particles in the air can cause or aggravate a number of health problems and have been linked with illnesses and deaths from heart or lung disease. At highest risk from particle pollution are people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children whose lungs are still developing, and adults and children who are active outdoors. Particles of concern include both very small, “fine” particles (that can only be seen through an electron microscope) and somewhat larger “coarse” dust particles. Fine particles have been more definitively linked to the most serious health problems.

Unhealthy levels of ground level ozone occur in the summer as intense sunlight interacts with oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) volatile organic compounds. Ozone forming pollutants originate from vehicles, lawn-mowers and boats; emissions from power plants and other fuel burning equipment; and vapors from gasoline, paints and industrial processes. Particulate matter can either be directly emitted into the air or formed in the atmosphere by reactions of fuel combustion gases. Any measures taken to reduce ozone forming emissions will also reduce particulate matter.

Vehicles account for 30 to 40 percent of the pollutants that cause ozone in the Baltimore/Washington area and every summer day, gas-powered lawn and garden equipment release more than 100 times the VOC’s of a typical large industrial plant. For every person who postpones lawn mowing on Air Quality Action Days, potential VOC reductions equal the amount generated by a car driving from Montgomery County to Raleigh, North Carolina. The Washington region is in violation of Federal air quality standards established under the Clean Air Act for ozone. In addition to concerns about public health effects caused by poor air quality, the region could also lose federal funds for highway projects if Federal standards are not met. This could ultimately lead to even worse levels of congestion and air quality.

The region has successfully lowered overall pollution and reduced the number of Code Red days each summer. However, adding to the region’s challenge, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recognizing the serious health impacts from ozone and particulate matter, established tougher air quality standards. While an air quality forecast of Code Red historically indicated poor air quality that did not meet Federal health based standards, now a Code Orange air quality forecast indicates air quality that fails to meet the strengthened Federal standards.

For more information visit the County’s Department of Environmental Protection’s website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/dep, or call 240-777-7700. For information on Ride On bus schedules, call the Transit Information Center at 311 (within Montgomery County) or 240-777-0311, or check the County’s web site at www.RideOnBus.com

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