Summer is upon us! Barbecues, hot summer nights, lightning bugs and… higher levels of air pollution here in Dallas. As the temperatures start rising for the summer, we will face more ground ozone moderate to high level air pollution days. What does this mean, why is it worse in the summer, and what can we do?
There is good and bad ozone gas, based on where it is found. Good ozone lies high up in our atmosphere, creating the ozone layer that filters out some of the sun’s ultraviolet waves. The ozone layer reduces the amount of radiation reaching Earth, protecting life. Bad ozone is at ground level, present in the air we breathe. Bad ozone is formed in the presence of sunlight during chemical reactions of air pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, heating and cooling, refineries, chemical plants and other sources. Simply: We release particle pollution into the air that “cooks” in the presence of sunlight and turns into ozone.
Ground level ozone is an air pollutant and a known trigger for asthma attacks, as well as breathing troubles for adults with chronic lung diseases. Ozone can affect previously non-asthmatic people as well. Inhaling high levels of ozone can make it more difficult to breathe deeply, cause shortness of breath and coughing, and damage lungs. Children are at the most risk due to their rapidly developing lungs.
About one in 12 people (about 25 million) have asthma, and the numbers are increasing every year. In 2013, 3,630 deaths were due to asthma complications in the U.S. (according to the CDC). Studies have shown cities, such as Dallas, pose the biggest threat for asthmatics because the urban heat island effect can exacerbate air pollution.
A city characterized as an urban heat island is warmer than its surrounding area due to being densely urbanized with high traffic. Concrete and buildings absorb heat from the sun and without wind or rain to cool surfaces, the temperature within the city rises. Car and air conditioner exhaust contributes to the warming. The city heats up, creating a breeding ground for air pollution. Ground level ozone can also have harmful effects on plants, visibly damaging the leaves and reducing the plant’s ability to make and store food, a significant problem for some of our agricultural crops.
Next time you see the “yellow” level air pollution status on one of the highway signs, take a second to think about what you are breathing into your lungs. Do you want cleaner air?
There are several ways to reduce the amount of ground level ozone, by reducing the air pollutants we are releasing. Carpooling, taking public transportation, walking or riding your bike are some easy ways to decrease air pollution. Turn your thermostat up in your home and office. Acclimate yourself to a higher indoor temperature, and you won’t be as hot the next time you step outside.
Make sure your car tires are filled properly, and keep your car well maintained to maximize gas mileage. Fill your gas tank during cool morning hours. Repair leaky air conditioners and make sure they are working properly. Support more green spaces that can aid in cooling the urban heat island effect.
Anytime you have a choice to support renewable resources rather than burning more fossil fuels, think about the air we breathe and make informed decisions. In a study published in the Journal of Thoracic Disease in 2015, the Children’s Health Study found, “Even under current regulatory levels of air pollutants, adverse effects of air pollution occur for many respiratory illnesses including asthma, low lung function growth and airway inflammation. These results suggest stricter regulatory standards are needed to prevent adverse health outcomes in the U.S., Europe and other developed nations.” This suggests the regulations we have now are not enough to keep our public healthy.
The temperatures are heating up in Dallas, and we’re all excited about summer fun. Let’s preserve the air we have to make sure it’s safe to enjoy all of our summer days outside.
As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.