What is the ozone layer? Why do ozone alerts matter? When does ozone present a threat to our health?

As temperatures heat up and the ozone season approaches, Clean Air Partners kicks off a public education campaign in conjunction with Air Quality Awareness Week, from May 1–5, 2023. The campaign defines ozone layers and highlights the surprising culprits of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions found right in our own backyards. Tips will be offered for small lifestyle changes to improve air quality.

“Daily outdoor activities, such as mowing and fertilizing lawns, spraying insecticides and using a charcoal grill, emit harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. During the summer, these activities can contribute to the creation of ground-level ozone as well as toxic air pollutants that are harmful to breathe,” says Clean Air Partners, a public-private partnership educating the greater metropolitan Baltimore-Washington region about health risks associated with poor air quality.

According to AirNow, a partnership between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies, “Ozone is a gas that occurs both in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and at ground level. Ozone can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for your health and the environment, depending on its location in the atmosphere…The layer closest to the Earth’s surface is the troposphere.” 

“Ground-level or ‘bad’ ozone is an air pollutant that is harmful to breathe and it damages crops, trees and other vegetation. It is a main ingredient of urban smog. The troposphere generally extends to a level about 6 miles up, where it meets the second layer, the stratosphere.” 

The EPA says “breathing air polluted with ground-level ozone can cause major health issues and worsen long-term lung damage and symptoms of asthma. The stratospheric or ‘good’ ozone layer extends upward from about 6 to 30 miles and protects life on Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.” 

Clean Air Partner’s air quality tips: 

Pass on gas tools. Select instead electric and manual lawn equipment.

Mow on low ozone days. Mow when air quality is good.

Go green with grilling by swapping charcoal grills for gas or electric, switching from lighter fluid to natural fire starters, and cleaning grills often.

Go organic for fertilizers and pesticides. Try natural alternatives like compost, alfalfa, fish meal and neem oil.

Plant native shrubs, groundcovers and wildflowers and minimize lawn size.

Keep grass taller. Taller grass, at least three inches high, takes in more sunlight, develops deeper roots, and shades and moisturizes soil better.

Make your own mulch. Leave grass clippings instead of bagging and sending to the landfill.

Avoid aerosol products such as spray paint, herbicides, sunscreens, and bug sprays which contain toxic chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOC) that are harmful for your insides and our outside. Choose products with low VOCs.

Incidents of preventable illness can be reduced or eliminated with an increased awareness of these eye-opening air quality facts offered by the Clean Air Partners:

Residential lawns can emit over one kilogram of carbon per square meter per year. This doesn’t account for the additional environmental impact of maintenance such as fertilizing, watering and mowing.

Breathing air polluted with ground-level ozone can cause major health issues and worsen long-term lung damage and symptoms of asthma, according to the EPA.

An hour using a gas-powered lawn mower produces the same emissions as driving 350 miles the distance between Washington, DC, and Cleveland, Ohio.

A leaf blower emits nearly 300x the amount of air pollutants as a pickup truck.

Newer electric lawn care equipment is more efficient and requires less maintenance than gasoline-powered options. An electric lawn mower doesn’t need oil changes or filter cleanings, making it less complicated and costly.

Every ton of nitrogen created to make synthetic fertilizer adds four to five tons of carbon to the atmosphere.

Two hours of charcoal grilling has the same carbon dioxide emissions as driving a car 26 miles.

“People don’t realize how everyday activities around their home can create harmful emissions that impact not just their family’s health, but create a wider public health concern,” said Randy Mosier, Clean Air Partners board chair. “We hope that our campaign will inspire residents to take action in their own backyard and make a positive difference in the air we breathe.”

Jayne Hopson
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