COLORADO SPRINGS — Air quality alerts are issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on days when ozone could reach unhealthy levels. Here's why you should listen to any air quality advisory, even if you think your lungs are perfectly healthy.
What is Ozone and where does it come from?
Ozone, often called smog, forms when sunlight causes reactions between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. To put that more simply, sunshine reacts with certain gasses and particles in the air to create ozone. Ozone is the air quality pollutant of most concern in the Pikes Peak region.
There are two types of Ozone; Ground Level and Ozone Layer. Ground-level ozone is a harmful air pollutant that affects all of us. The ozone layer way up in the stratosphere is the good, protective ozone. Hot summer days tend to produce more air quality alerts. Strong sun angles, slow moving air, and increased heat work together to stimulate reactions that produce ozone.
While most people think power plants are the biggest contributors to pollution and ozone, naturally occurring/biogenic processes and transportation are actually two of the biggest producers in El Paso County. Idling your car, pumping an extra few clicks into the gas tank, and skimping on car maintenance all lead to increased levels of ozone at the surface where we breathe. Wildfires, while more infrequent, lead to even higher levels of harmful ozone.
Why is Ozone a problem?
According to the American Lung Association, ozone is like a sunburn for your lungs. Ozone can cause a number of health problems, including coughing, breathing difficulty and lung damage. Even though healthy adults can experience ozone's harmful effects, there are two groups in particular that are at an increased risk.
Children, including teenagers, can be extra sensitive to increased ozone due to the fact that their lungs are still developing and they breathe in more per pound of body weight than adults. Older adults also see a greater risk from high ozone levels since their bodies are less able to compensate for the effects of environmental hazards.
What do we do when an air quality alert is issued?
The most important thing to do is to care for you and your family's health. Adjust your physical activities on high ozone days to reduce exposure to air pollution. Go jogging in the morning instead of in the afternoon, or take a walk in the park away from heavy car traffic. Simple steps like this can go a long way in protecting your lungs from ozone's harmful effects.
What steps can I take to reduce ozone in my neighborhood?
There are many simple steps you can take to reduce ozone accumulation in your neighborhood, and most of them are pretty easy! Simple things like using more public transit or car pooling and biking to work. Fuel up early in the morning or at dusk, and always stop at the click to reduce gas fumes.
Keeping your tires inflated and your car regularly serviced will help to boost your fuel economy and put less exhaust into the atmosphere. Mow your lawn in the evening and use electric tools whenever possible.