Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Air Pollutants

Summer's here, and we're getting those miserable days where it's hot and humid and the air quality is poor, making it hard to breathe. I sometimes wonder what people did before air conditioning, but now I'm starting to think that maybe the air quality didn't get this bad before the twentieth century.

There's a website called AirNow that tracks the air quality across the country and gives advice on how to help reduce unhealthy air quality (like what we have right now, what I guess used to be called hazy, hot and humid, but is now all about ozone levels being too high).

The basics from the site certainly suggest that hot summer days weren't this bad over a century ago:

Bad Ozone. In the Earth's lower atmosphere, near ground level, ozone is formed when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants, and other sources react chemically in the presence of sunlight. Ozone at ground level is a harmful air pollutant.

Days when ozone is expected to be high:
• Conserve electricity and set your air conditioner at a higher temperature.
• Choose a cleaner commute—share a ride to work or use public transportation. Bicycle or walk to errands when possible.
• Refuel cars and trucks after dusk.
• Combine errands and reduce trips.
• Limit engine idling.
• Use household, workshop,and garden chemicals in ways that keep evaporation to a minimum, or try to delay using them when poor air quality is forecast.

What You Can Do On A Daily Basis
• Choose a cleaner commute — car pool, use public transportation, bike or walk when possible.
• Combine errands to reduce "cold starts" of your car and avoid extended idling.
• Be sure your tires are properly inflated.
• Keep car, boat and other engines properly tuned, and avoid engines that smoke.
• Follow gasoline refueling instructions for efficient vapor recovery. Be careful not to spill fuel and always tighten your gas cap securely.
• Use environmentally safe paints and cleaning products whenever possible.
• Some products that you use at your home or office are made with smog-forming chemicals that can evaporate into the air when you use them. Follow manufacturers' recommendations for use and properly seal cleaners, paints, and other chemicals to prevent evaporation into the air.
• Conserve electricity. Consider setting your thermostat a little higher in the summer and lower in winter. Participate in local energy conservation programs. Look for the ENERGY STAR label when buying home or office equipment.
• Consider using gas logs instead of wood. If you use a wood-burning stove or fireplace insert, make sure it meets EPA design specifications. Burn only dry, seasoned wood.

There's also a website where you can see the UV forecast, so you can do a better job of guessing at how much sunblock you'll need for the day.

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