With April upon us, we’re all excited about the opportunity to be outdoors more. Some of us look forward to dining al fresco, others enjoy biking to work, and some of us explore our RTP pedestrian trails, while others enjoy the rugged RTP mountain biking trail. But along with our warmer weather come concerns about our regional air quality.
The two biggest air quality problems in North Carolina are ground-level ozone (the main ingredient in “smog”) and particle pollution. Both pollutants are caused mainly by emissions from cars and trucks, and from the coal-burning power plants that supply most of our electricity. Because hot, sunny conditions are needed for elevated ozone levels, ozone is only a problem during the warm-weather months. The ozone forecast season, when N.C. Division of Air Quality forecasts daily ozone levels, is April 1 to October 31.
For those of your working or passing through the Park, you may notice SmartCommute@rtp member employers posting informational signs letting Park employees know what the Air Quality Forecast is for the day using the Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI is a tool used to report levels of ozone, particles and other pollutants in the air to the public. The AQI scale is divided into five color-coded categories, each corresponding to a different level of health concern ranging from green (good) to purple (very unhealthy). Greater AQI values correspond to greater concentrations of air pollution and indicate greater health danger.
The air quality color codes are:
|AQI Color Code||Air Quality||AQI Number|
|Green||Good||0 to 50|
|Yellow||Moderate||51 to 100|
|Orange||Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups||101 to 150|
|Red||Unhealthy||151 to 200|
|Purple||Very Unhealthy||201 to 300|
Even with cleaner cars and other new technology, our air could get worse as our population grows, endangering our health and reducing our quality of life. The good news is that by being mindful of our daily activities, we can make a few simple changes to help us all breathe easier.
Our individual activities create air pollution, and all of us have the power to improve air quality through our actions. Try some of the following:
- Leave your car at home. Take the bus, car pool, van pool, walk or ride your bike to your destination.
- Don’t drive to lunch. Take a meal or walk to a nearby restaurant instead of driving out to eat during the workday.
- Drive right. When you do drive your car, use cruise control whenever practical and stay within the speed limit. Avoid sudden stops and starts. Plan ahead and combine short trips whenever possible to avoid cold starts. Your vehicle may be your single biggest impact on air quality. Make air quality a priority by factoring emissions and fuel efficiency into your vehicle purchasing decisions. Find how vehicles compare by using the EPA’s Green Vehicle Guide or the US Department of Energy’s fuel economy website.
- Keep vehicles maintained. Keep your car, boat, and lawn equipment tuned up and follow your car’s maintenance schedule. Engines that are well maintained are more fuel-efficient and cause less pollution.
- Check your tire pressure. Keep your tires properly inflated; you’ll save gas and reduce tire wear, too.
- Don’t idle. Avoid idling in drive-through lanes – park and walk in instead. Idling your vehicle wastes gas and increases pollution, and idling can damage your car more than shutting off and re-starting your engine.
- Refuel at dusk. Postpone refueling your car until after 6 p.m. on Air Quality Action Days. This reduces the emissions during the peak daylight hours when ozone formation is most likely.
- Don’t top off your tank. When refueling your vehicle, stop at the click to avoid spilling gas and polluting the air and surface water.
- Reduce use of gasoline-powered lawn equipment. The small engines in lawn care equipment are major polluters. Use hand-powered or electric lawn care equipment whenever possible, and consider landscaping to reduce the amount of grass on your property. On Air Quality Action Days, wait until after 6:00 p.m. to use gas-powered lawn equipment.
- Conserve electricity. In the summer, set your air conditioning at the highest comfortable temperature (try 78 degrees). During winter, try a setting of 68 – 70 degrees to reduce electricity use by your heat pump. Reduce wintertime particulate matter pollution from oil furnaces by keeping them well maintained. Use ceiling fans to increase both cooling and heating efficiency. Turn off appliances when not in use. Look for the Energy Star label when purchasing major appliances.
- Try something different. Use water-based paints and cleaners instead of solvent-based products.
Individuals can sign up to receive daily emails that include the air quality forecast at http://www.ncair.org/airaware/enviroflash/.
And finally, I encourage you to join Triangle Air Awareness for the 2012 Ozone Forecast Season Kick-off event on April 13, from noon to 1:30pm. You can register for this free event here.