The Long Hot Summer, By the Numbers

8 Jun

Today is another “Code Orange” day in the Greater Mercer TMA region, and tomorrow is also expected to be another Code Orange day as temperatures rise into the high 90s. As we’ve told you before, that means that it can be hard to breathe, especially for more vulnerable populations (children, the elderly, and anybody with any respiratory or heart problems). Days like these crop up regularly for the whole summer, through mid-September, so we all have to be vigilant. But what, exactly, does an “Ozone Action Day” mean?

Ozone Action Days are the days when the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection forecasts exceptionally high concentrations of ground-level ozone (usually thanks to high levels of humidity and high temperatures, combined with polluted air). Unlike ozone (O3) in the upper atmosphere that protects us from ultraviolet rays, the closer-to-home molecules can damage one’s lungs and throat, intensify heart and lung diseases, and lower resistance to illness. Children and those with breathing problems are the most at risk, but everybody can suffer.

Ozone, the main ingredient in smog, forms when there’s a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight. The summer provides the sun, and plenty of sources (automobile exhaust, industrial emissions, and gasoline vapors, among others) provide the rest. New Jersey sits in a perfect storm of air pollution; for the tenth consecutive year, the American Lung Association has given the state failing grades in its State of the Air report, and parts of the Garden State were ranked among the most polluted areas in the country.

The DEP posts air-quality readings, forecasts, and ozone alerts on its website (http://www.nj.gov/dep/airmon/ozact.htm). Here’s a primer on ways you can help improve air quality and protect your health and that of the public:

DO…
•    Work from home
•    Carpool or use mass transit
•    Refuel your car in the evening
•    Plan efficient routes

DON’T…
•    Top off your tank
•    Do strenuous activities outdoors
•    Venture out if you are in an at-risk category
•    Idle your car
•    Use gasoline-powered mowers

Air Quality Index:

GOOD AQI: 0-50
Weather Conditions:  Cool summer temperatures; windy; significant cloud cover; heavy or steady precipitation.
Health Effects:  None

MODERATE AQI: 51-100
Weather Conditions: Temperatures in the upper 70’s to lower 80’s; light to moderate winds; partly cloudy or mostly sunny skies; chance of rain or afternoon thunderstorms.
Health Effects: Unusually sensitive people should consider limiting prolonged outdoor exertion.

UNHEALTHY(for Sensitive Group) AQI: 101-150
Weather Conditions: Temperatures in the 80s and 90s, light winds; mostly sunny skies; slight chance of afternoon thunderstorms.
Health Effects: Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

UNHEALTHY
AQI: 151-200
Weather Conditions: Hot, hazy, and humid; stagnant air; sunny skies; little chance of precipitation.
Health Effects:  Active children and adults, and people with respiratory diseases such as asthma, should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit outdoor exertion.

VERY UNHEALTHY
AQI: 201-300
Weather Conditions: Hot and very hazy; extremely stagnant air; sunny skies; no precipitation.
Health Effects:  Active children and adults, and people with respiratory diseases such as asthma, should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit outdoor exertion.

Chart information courtesy of the USEPA.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: