This past winter we all struggled with the dirty, dirty air. Day after day, the Utah Department of Air Quality flashed RED AIR day warnings to those paying attention — and if you are like me, you were paying attention. Spring brought us much needed relief with robin-egg blue skies and warmer temperatures. But now as the mercury continues to creep upward, signaling the start of summer, ozone is the uninvited guest that you would do best not to ignore.
Ozone is a poisonous gas, the result of a chemical reaction between sunlight, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxide gases (NOx). It is characterized by three molecules of oxygen and is thus highly unstable, which is why it fortunately breaks down so easily indoors, in the absence of sunlight. (Particulate matter, the scourge of our bad winter air, does not break down easily and is thus harder to escape.)
VOCs + NOx + Sunlight = Ozone
But wait, you say, isn’t ozone a good thing? Are we not worried about depleted ozone in our atmosphere? Yes, ozone up high in the sky is good (it protects the earth’s surface from ultraviolet rays), but down low it is harmful to breathe.
Breathing air heavy with ozone burns the inside of your lungs. OUCH! It doesn’t take much imagination to realize that this is not a good thing, so consider really limiting your outdoor activities and staying inside to play instead when ozone creeps into the yellow and red zones. Ice skating, indoor rock climbing, indoor swimming pools & indoor bounce houses can still get your kids’ wiggles out, but also protect their young lungs.
The Utah Department of Air Quality provides daily alerts regarding air quality (or lack thereof), so that you can take proactive steps to protect yourself and your family.
To reduce your contributions to ozone today (or any day!) and other hot summer days when ozone levels peak, Utah Moms for Clean Air asks you to consider:
* Postpone lawn mowing — unless you use a hand-pushed or electric mower — until after dark. Remember to create ozone, you need sunlight – without sunlight, we do not have ozone.
* Postpone filling-up your gas tank until after dark.
* Do not use spray paint or other paints that off-gas (they all off-gas VOC’s unless they say VOC free). If you must use them, wait again until after dark.
* Leave your car at home. Tailpipe emissions are one of the biggest contributors to ozone pollution.
* Use natural cleaning products that do not contain VOCs such as Mrs. Myers or even just the classic basics such as baking soda, vinegar and lemon. For tips on using natural cleaners — and saving $$ — check-out: Care2.com or the Guide to Green Living.
* Add green leafy plants to your house which can further reduce VOCs and ozone indoors. Cactus and Tropicals in Salt Lake City co-hosted a class with Utah Moms for Clean Air on how to purify your indoor air with plants. They are happy to help with your plant selection.
We must all do our part to reduce our contributions to air pollution and ozone is no exception. Please spread the word and encourage your friends, family and elected officials to take a proactive role in protecting the Clean Air Act, which currently is under assault by America’s big polluters.
For more information about ozone check-out this great website: Air Pollution Solutions.