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Summertime Ozone Pollution


Ground-level ozone pollution is formed when emissions from everyday items combine with other pollutants and "cook" in the heat and sunlight. Sources of such emissions include local industry, gasoline-powered vehicles and lawn equipment, and household paints, stains and solvents. Weather plays a key role in ozone formation. The highest ozone levels are usually recorded in summer months (between June and September) when temperatures approach the high 80s and 90s and the wind is stagnant or light.

At ground level, ozone pollution is harmful to all of us, especially the young and elderly. Ozone can also trigger attacks and symptoms in individuals with pre-existing health conditions, such as asthma or other respiratory infections. High levels of ozone pollution often affect healthy people who work or exercise outdoors and can cause breathing difficulties, eye irritation and reduced resistance to lung infections and colds with exposure for prolonged periods.

Does ozone threaten Denver's clean air status?

While the Denver region is currently in compliance with the new, stricter ozone standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it continues to near the limit. The region has until 2007 to maintain compliance and receive an official attainment designation from the federal government.

The Regional Air Quality Council (RAQC) http://www.raqc.org/  is asking citizens to take care of their summer air by making voluntary changes in behavior to ensure that the Front Range region will continue to meet federal air quality standards. What can I do to prevent ozone pollution?

Denver's ozone season runs from June through August. During this time, the RAQC will work with meteorologists at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to issue Ozone Action Alerts  notifying the public when ozone levels could potentially reach unhealthy levels. During an ozone action alert, you can make a special effort in taking some simple actions including:

In your yard

  • Delay mowing until evening - don't mow, let it grow.
  • Use a new earth-friendly lawn mower - an electric- or battery-powered mower, a non-motorized push mower, or a new gasoline-powered mower.
  • Maintain your mower to help it run cleaner - change the air filter, oil and spark plugs at least once each season. Keep the underside of the mower free of grass build-up.
  • Avoid using two-stroke gasoline-powered yard equipment, such as weed trimmers, since they emit a disproportionate share of air pollution.
  • Use a funnel to refuel equipment - avoid even small spills and drips.
  • Reduce lawn watering and fertilizing to discourage excessive lawn growth.
  • Xeriscape to reduce lawn area, or change to native western grasses to reduce the need for irrigation and mowing.
  • Choose an alternative to charcoal grilling.
  • Don't use petroleum distillate charcoal lighter fluids, which emit a lot of harmful vapors. Use an electric starter or charcoal chimney instead.

Around the house

  • Avoid solvent-based products, which have pollution causing vapors (VOCs). Use water-based paint, stain and sealants.
  • If you must use a solvent-based product, avoid using it on ozone action alert days or use it in the evening.
  • Avoid spray paints, most of which are solvent based. Very fine spray also can become airborne. Use paint brushes and rollers instead.
  • Tightly cap all solvents (gasoline, paint thinners, strippers, degreasers) and store in a cool place to avoid evaporation.
  • Plan major painting, stripping and refinishing projects for spring and fall to avoid summer heat and sun which react with vapors to create ozone pollution.
  • Avoid use of flammable household products, such as some floor wax, furniture polish, fabric cleaners and insect foggers, all of which tend to have solvents.

On the road

  • Keep your car tuned up and tires well inflated to increase mileage and reduce the need for refueling.
  • Refuel in the evening, so fuel vapors will not have a chance to "cook" into ozone.
  • When refueling your car, stop at the click - when the nozzle clicks off. Don't overfill or drip fuel. Fuel creates ozone-causing vapors as it evaporates.
  • Avoid idling your car unnecessarily while waiting in parking lots or service lines. Turn off the engine.
  • Reduce your driving by delaying trips, combining errands into one trip, carpooling, walking or biking, or using public transportation.

By taking these actions, you can help keep the metropolitan Denver region a healthy, clean city in which to live, work and play.

To find out about current air quality conditions, visit this site often, sign up for Ozone Action Alerts  or call the 24-hour hotline number at 303-758-4848.

For more information on air quality issues along the Front Range, please visit the RAQC Web site. 

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