Ozone season can create unhealthy conditions to be outdoors

Ozone can be harmful to our lung tissue and the lungs of animals

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Central Texas is in the middle of the summer season; it’s also in the middle of ozone season, which runs from March 1 to Nov. 30. The Environmental Protection Agency has extended the season by one month for 2016 and beyond as part of a set of stricter standards it rolled out in October 2015.

The new standards put Central Texas at a higher risk of seeing Ozone Action Days, where it is suggested that young children, the elderly, asthmatics and people with sensitive lung issues avoid spending time outdoors.

Ozone plays different roles in the atmosphere, depending on how far it occurs above the surface of the Earth. It is found in highest concentrations in the ozone layer, which occurs naturally about 12-19 miles above the Earth. There it blocks harmful UV rays from hitting Earth’s surface.

Ozone occurs in lower amounts on the surface of the Earth, where we breathe. Here it’s considered a pollutant, and harmful to our lung tissue and the lungs of animals. It can also hurt plants. Sunlight reacts with pollution from cars, industries and household items like paints and solvents to create ozone.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, Chair of the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition, spoke Friday in Austin about Central Texas’ progress with decreasing local pollution that would lead to ozone. She says it’s much better than it was 30 years ago, and levels are expected to keep decreasing through 2021. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still feel the effects of ozone.

“Anybody who has asthma, anyone who has felt the effects of walking out on a high ozone day and had a difficult time, getting shortness of breath, anyone who runs can tell you that they will know when the air quality is bad because it takes a toll on their ability to run.”

The luncheon was sponsored by CLEAN AIR Force of Central Texas, a non-partisan, public/private organization focused on air quality improvement. KXAN’s Jim Spencer and David Yeomans attended, asking questions about the best quick changes to make to help cut down on pollution. Judge Eckhardt suggests having your groceries delivered to you, washing clothes in cold water and buying a clothesline instead of using the dryer. She also suggests telecommuting and teleconferencing to cut down on driving, even if it’s just one day a week, it could make a big difference.

Here’s what the EPA suggests:

  • Choose a cleaner commute – share a ride to work or use public transportation.
  • Combine errands and reduce trips. Walk to errands when possible.
  • Avoid excessive idling of your automobile.
  • Refuel your car in the evening when its cooler.
  • Conserve electricity and set air conditioners no lower than 78 degrees.
  • Defer lawn and gardening chores that use gasoline-powered equipment, or wait until evening.

Suggestions from the Central Texas Clearn Air Coalition on what you can do today to help the environment and yourself:

  • Brown bag your lunch so you won’t have to drive in the middle of the day
  • Print on both sides of paper on the office printer
  • Redo your roof with light-colored, reflective roofing materials: they can reduce energy consumption up to 40 percent.
  • Take out the junk in your trunk. It’ll  lighten the load on your tires, which will let you use less gasoline.
  • You can also exercise in the morning, when its cooler and your body won’t have to work so hard. Intense exercise can increase your intake of oxygen tenfold, which could be mean you’re pumping in unhealthy air. Ozone levels tend to be highest in the afternoon and early evening.

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