The Air Quality Benefits of Biking

With the start of spring just days away, many of us are dreaming of warmer temperatures and the opportunity to get outdoors. One great way to enjoy the beauty and warmth of spring is by biking. Not only is cycling a great form of exercise, it’s also an easy way to help improve the quality of the air we breathe.

According to U.S. Census data, nearly half of all Americans live within five miles of their workplaces. For those who live close to work, choosing to bike, instead of idling in rush hour traffic, helps take cars off area roads and reduces the emissions that lead to poor air quality. Biking can also serve as an eco-friendly way to run errands and get around town when the weather is nice. Experts note that if just 1 percent of those who drive chose to bike regularly instead, automobile emissions would fall 2 to 4 percent.

On a larger scale, the actual production of bikes also has a much smaller impact on the environment than the production of cars. Each year, several tons of waste and 1.2 billion cubic yards of polluted air are generated each year through the manufacturing of cars. And during their lives on the roads, cars individually produce an additional 1.3 billion cubic yards of polluted air and create 40 additional pounds of waste from worn tire particles, brake debris and worn road surfaces.

On a more personal level, biking is good for both mental and physical health. It boosts endorphins, making cyclists happier. In addition, avid bikers tend to be in better, overall physical shape than those who don’t bike regularly. So, the next time the weather is nice, consider dusting off your bike and taking it for a ride. Your body, and the environment, will thank you for it.

For more information on alternative transportation options that can help reduce emissions and improve our region’s air quality, explore our website, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @gatewaycleanair.

The Benefits of Telecommuting

It’s January, and Old Man Winter has a tight grip on the St. Louis region. If the cold temperatures and threat of snow and ice have you wishing you could hunker down and work from home, you’re not alone. In fact, many individuals are enjoying the many benefits of telecommuting – both during the cold weather months and year-round. Telecommuting is a convenient way to reduce or eliminate the work commute, taking cars off the road and reducing the vehicle emissions that lead to air pollution.

Current statistics indicate that nearly 85 percent of American office employees work from home more than once a month, and almost 25 of employees telecommute weekly. In addition, more than 40 percent of U.S companies have implemented some type of telecommuting policy.

If you’re one of the many individuals that have the ability to telecommute, then you already know that working from home is a great way to stay productive when icy roads make it impossible to get to the office. It also removes cars from the roads, along with the related air pollution. But, there are host of additional benefits that make telecommuting a win-win for employees and employers alike. These include:

Increased productivity: Many believe that giving employees the ability to work from home will mean that they will work less. However, studies show that telecommuting actually has the potential to increase productivity. Specifically, a study from the University of Texas at Austin, showed that telecommuters accomplished 5-7 more hours of work than their counterparts who worked in the office.

Less employee turnover: Long commutes can result in unhappy employees and higher turnover for companies. Research has shown that the ability to telecommute results in more satisfied employees who remain in their positions much longer than those who are required to work in the office each day.

Improved morale: Telecommuting helps to promote a better work/life balance, resulting in employees that are happier, feel more valued, work harder and are more invested in the companies they work for.

Money savings: Working from home cuts employees’ commuting costs, while also saving employers money. Estimates indicate that a company saves $11,000 annually for each employee who telecommutes.

For more information on telecommuting and other alternative commuting options, explore our website, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @gatewaycleanair.

Vehicle idling: Myth vs. Fact

As cooler, fall temperatures begin to settle into the region, you may be tempted to idle your vehicle more often than usual. Idling is one of the main contributors to air pollution, yet many misconceptions exist regarding the need to idle and the negative effects of idling on our air, our engines and our pocketbooks. Before you think about warming your car on a cold morning, or idling in a drive-thru or school drop-off zone on a chilly winter afternoon, make sure you can decipher what’s myth and what’s fact when it comes to vehicle idling.

Myth: Engines should be warmed up before driving, especially in cold weather.

Fact: Today’s electronic engines do not need long warm-ups, even in winter. No more than 30 seconds of warm-up time is needed in the winter. Easing into a drive is the best way to get a vehicle heating system to deliver warmer air faster.

Myth: Idling is good for your engine.

Fact: Excessive idling can damage your engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs and exhaust systems.  Fuel is only partially combusted when idling because an engine does not operate at its peak temperature. This leads to the build-up of fuel residues on cylinder walls that can damage engine components and increase fuel consumption.

Myth: It’s better to leave the engine running than shutting it off and restarting it because “cold starts” are hard on the engine and use more gas.

Fact: Frequent restarting has little impact on engine components.  Idling, however, forces an engine to operate in an inefficient and gasoline-rich mode that can affect the engine’s performance and reduce gas mileage. More than ten seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting the engine.

Myth: It’s better to leave an engine idling because “cold starts” produce more pollution.

Fact: Driving a car immediately after a cold start allows the engine to heat up significantly faster, especially in newer models. When the car heats faster, its catalytic converter becomes more efficient at reducing emissions — by as much as 99 percent.

Explore our website for information on anti-idling initiatives, or additional steps you can take to help improve air quality. We also encourage you to like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @gatewaycleanair.

Air pollution brings increased risk for asthma attacks

For most kids, the start of the school year is an exciting time, filled with fun, friends and new adventures. But for kids with asthma, the new school year can come with serious health challenges.
This is because the trip back to class often brings with it a variety of asthma triggers that may lead to asthma attacks. These triggers can include emotional stress and anxiety, new sports routines and indoor and outdoor allergens.

 
The amount of pollution in our air is a major contributor to asthma attacks. Exposure to smog is dangerous for kids, especially since they are still growing and generally spend more time outdoors than adults. Dirty air can interfere with lung development and increase the risk of lung infections in all children, and the health risks are far greater for children with asthma. Currently, approximately 6.3 million children suffer from asthma, and the condition ranks as one of the leading causes of missed school days.

 
Smog is formed when heat and sunlight react with pollution – much of which is released from vehicle tailpipes. Consider where your own children attend school. Is there a long line of parents idling their vehicles as they wait to drop off their children? Are there idling buses near the school entrance? All of those idling vehicles release emissions that are dangerous for children and can exacerbate asthma.
The good news is that since we are a part of the air pollution problem at school, we can also be a part of the solution. By simply making a commitment to refrain from idling on school grounds, we can help reduce the emissions that lead to poor air quality and ultimately help students breathe easier.

 

Area schools are also encouraged to get involved in the clean air effort by placing “no idle” signs in their drop-off lanes and parking lots. FREE signs are available to schools by contacting Susannah Fuchs with the Clean Air Partnership via email at Susannah.fuchs@lung.org. To learn more, click here.

 
For information about additional steps you can take to help improve air quality, we encourage you to explore the tips page (link to page) of our website. We also encourage you to like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @gatewaycleanair.

Back to school tips for cleaner air

With the summer season over, children across the region are now settling into their back-to-school routines. If you’re one of the many parents who drive their children to school each day, now is a great time to consider other transportation options that can help reduce the emissions that lead to air pollution, while also helping to improve lung health across the St. Louis area.

The following tips can help make the school commute a more air quality-friendly one:

Walk or bike to class: For kids that live close to school, walking and biking are great commuting options that also offer an opportunity to get some exercise, whenever weather and air quality conditions are favorable.

Encourage the kids to ride the bus: For those who live near a school bus route, the bus can offer an eco-friendly way to get to class, especially as more districts purchase lower pollution buses.

Share the ride to school: If driving to school is the only option for getting there, work with neighbors to organize carpools to reduce emissions and also help parents and students save money on gas.

• Avoid unnecessary idling: Idling engines produce toxic pollution that is known to cause serious health concerns. Exposure to car exhaust can also aggravate asthma symptoms. And with asthma ranking as the most common chronic illness in children, vehicle idling can be especially harmful to kids. When dropping the kids off, avoid idling parking lots, bus and carpool lanes and delivery areas.

At back to school time, and year-round, parents and kids can access a wealth of air quality information and tips to help them do their share for cleaner air on the Clean Air Partnership website. Additional air quality tips and information can also be found on our Facebook page and on Twitter @gatewaycleanair.

The link between hot weather and ozone pollution

Over the last several weeks, the St. Louis area has seen its share of scorching temperatures and poor air quality. And as we head into what is traditionally the hottest part of summer, air quality conditions will have the potential to creep into the orange and red range. Have you ever wondered why scorching, hot days are often synonymous with poor air quality?

On summer days, heat and sunlight react with hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides emitted by automobiles and other sources, which mix to form a ground-level layer of ozone, also known as smog. High amounts of ground-level ozone result in the orange and red air quality days that can pose health risks for all of us, especially children, the elderly and those with respiratory concerns.

When inhaled, even at very low levels, ozone can cause acute respiratory problems, aggravate asthma, result in a 14-20 percent decrease in lung capacity for healthy adults, cause inflammation of lung tissue, lead to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits and impair the body’s immune system defenses, making more people susceptible to respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

The good news is that there are many simple steps we can all take to help reduce the emissions that lead to ozone formation and poor air quality. Since transportation choices have the most profound effect on air quality, efforts to carpool, vanpool, use the bus and MetroLink, telecommute or use flextime, and walk or bike more can go a long way toward improving air quality. Those that drive alone are encouraged to combine errands into a single trip, plan their route in advance to avoid idling in traffic tie-ups and construction zones and refrain from other forms of unnecessary idling.

  • Other emissions-reducing steps individuals can take on poor air quality days include:
  • Refueling gas tanks after dusk and not topping off the tank.
  • Avoiding the use of gas-powered lawn mowers and garden equipment, if possible, or mowing before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m. to avoid peak ozone formation hours.
  • Using a gas grill instead of a charcoal when barbecuing.

Throughout the summer, area residents can view the daily air quality forecast on our homepage. Visitors can also sign up there to receive the daily forecast via email. The forecast and a wealth of air quality tips and information can also be found on our Facebook page and on Twitter @gatewaycleanair.

The positive impacts of idle reduction

Tailpipe w-emissionsHow often do you find yourself idling your car in drive-thrus, parking lots or right outside your child’s school? It’s probably a lot more than you care to admit, especially given how bad all of that unnecessary idling is for our air.

Idling vehicles emit 20 times more pollution than a car traveling at 30 mph. And the pollution released from vehicle idling includes air toxics, which are known to cause cancer, respiratory and reproductive issues, birth defects or other serious health concerns.

While you may not always be able to avoid idling, there are many instances when you can make the choice not to idle. These include:

  • Turning off your ignition when you have to wait for more than 10 seconds. Idling for just 10 seconds wastes more gas than restarting the engine.
  • Not “warming up” your vehicle. Modern engines don’t need more than a few seconds of idle time before they are safe to drive.
  • Planning your trips to avoid construction zones and traffic tie-ups. Resources like MoDOT’s Gateway Guide website at www.gatewayguide.com can alert you to high-traffic areas before you leave the house, allowing you to choose an alternate, idle-free route.

For every 10 minutes your engine is off, you’ll prevent one pound of carbon dioxide from being released into our air – helping individuals across the region breathe easier. And with statistics noting that 10 minutes of idling a day wastes 27 gallons of fuel a year, choosing not to idle is also a great way to save fuel and money.

Explore our website for information on anti-idling initiatives, or additional steps you can take to help improve air quality. We also encourage you to like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @gatewaycleanair.

The 411 on AQI

AQI 2

We’re all familiar with the weather forecast, but what about the air quality forecast? During the summer months, daily air quality forecast updates let the public know if it will be a green, yellow, orange or red air quality day – and each color means something different for our health. As the weather heats up and the risk for poor air quality accelerates, these forecasts can play an important role in helping individuals avoid the harmful effects of air pollution.

The colors represent values within the Air Quality Index (AQI), a numerical system that measures how clean or polluted the air is. The Environmental Protection Agency calculates the AQI for five major air pollutants as regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. With values ranging from 0 to 500, the AQI determines health effects that may be experienced within hours or days after breathing polluted air. The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and potential for concerns.

The AQI is divided into six categories, each corresponding to a different level of health concern. Symbolized by the color green, an AQI in the 0-50 range is considered “good,” and air pollution poses little to no health risk. When the AQI ranges from 51-100, the health concern level is “moderate” and symbolized by the color yellow. In this range, air quality conditions are acceptable; however, people who are unusually sensitive to ozone may experience respiratory symptoms.

When the AQI ranges from 101 to 150, air quality conditions are “unhealthy for sensitive groups” and symbolized by the color orange. People with lung disease, older adults and children are at a greater risk from exposure to ozone, while those with heart and lung disease, older adults and children are at greater risk from the presence of particles in the air. An AQI from 151 to 200 represents “unhealthy” air quality conditions and is symbolized by the color red. At this AQI, everyone may begin to experience some adverse health effects, and members of the sensitive groups may experience more serious effects. Any AQI from 201-500, is considered “very unhealthy” or “hazardous,” and can trigger negative health effects and health warnings for the entire population.

The health effects of poor air quality are numerous and can include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, headaches, nausea, eye and throat irritation and decreased lung function. Additional risks include aggravation of respiratory problems, asthma, allergies and lung diseases; impairment of the immune system, increased hospital and ER visits and irregular heartbeat, heart attacks and premature death in those with heart or lung disease.

To help keep the public updated on air quality conditions, the Clean Air Partnership posts the daily air quality forecast on our homepage. Residents can also visit the website to sign up to receive the forecast via email. Throughout the summer, the forecast can also be found on our Facebook page or by following the organization on Twitter @gatewaycleanair.

More poor air quality days likely this summer

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 4.28.59 PMThe American Lung Association’s 2016 State of the Air report ranked St. Louis as the 18th most polluted metropolitan area in the nation for ozone pollution, once again confirming what a critical concern air pollution continues to be locally. And those concerns have the potential to ramp up in the coming months, as the St. Louis area settles into its first summer season featuring stricter ozone standards.

Last October, in an effort to further protect public health, the Environmental Protection Agency strengthened the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion (ppb), down from 75 ppb. With these standards now in effect, the area has the potential to see many more orange and red poor air quality days this summer.

Luckily, there are a number of steps all of us can take to help reduce emissions, and keep air quality in the healthy range.

Since transportation has the most profound impact on air quality, making the choice to spend less time behind the wheel is an easy way to reduce the emissions that lead to poor air quality. Actions like using transit, carpooling and vanpooling, choosing not to idle your vehicle, combining errands into a single trip, walking and biking more, telecommuting and/or adjusting work hours to stay off the road during peak commute times all help take cars off area roads and the related emissions out of our air. These actions are especially critical when poor air quality conditions are in the forecast. In addition, there are many eco-friendly lifestyle changes that can further positively impact air quality, including efforts to conserve energy, recycle, reduce waste and reuse items.

Throughout the summer, area residents can view the daily air quality forecast on our homepage. Visitors can also sign up there to receive the daily forecast via email. The forecast can also be found on our Facebook page and on Twitter @gatewaycleanair.

SLU Ozone Garden

SLU Ozone Garden shows visual impact of poor air quality

Having devoted his career to the research and data analysis of global tropospheric ozone, Dr. Jack Fishman, Professor of the Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences and Director of the Center for Environmental Sciences at Saint Louis University, is the man behind St. Louis’ Ozone Garden Project. Working alongside the Saint Louis Science Center and the Missouri Botanical Garden, Fishman’s mission is to educate the public on the toxic effects of rising ozone pollution on plant species.

FPgarden4

Since the onset of the industrial revolution, ozone levels emitted by the combustion of fossil fuels have more than doubled in the lowest layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, known as troposphere. Today, as background concentrations of ozone pollutants continue to rise, ozone pollution is not only creating health concerns for humans, but is also causing vegetation damage and declines in crop productivity.

“The ozone garden idea was first used by the National Park Service,” said Fishman whose 40- year research career has focused on looking at ozone as a pollutant. “Unfortunately, for a very long time, most people weren’t aware of the potentially harmful effects of ozone, even at levels that are considered ‘background’ concentrations. As a result, the ozone gardens became a living display of the effects of ozone pollution on the biosphere.”

In the St. Louis area, Fishman’s efforts have resulted in the creation and maintenance of three established ozone gardens, which are located at the Saint Louis Science Center’s McDonnell Planetarium, Grant’s Farm and Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville, Ill. It is likely that two more gardens will be grown by 2016 – one at the Missouri Botanical Garden and another in Granite City, Ill. Nationally, more than a dozen Ozone Gardens have been planted that have used seeds, plants, and guidance from the St. Louis project.

The gardens feature bio-indicator plants with leaves that display damage when ozone pollution levels are high, but still below levels for which pollution alerts are issued. During the spring and summer months, Saint Louis University staff and student volunteers are responsible for inspecting the plants and collecting leaf damage data.

Each of the gardens also contains a weather station and an ozone (O3) monitor, which records air quality conditions every 15 minutes and transmits the data collected to a receiver online. The monitoring equipment is connected to the Global Ozone (GO3) Project, which provides institutions worldwide with the ability to upload their pollutant information to a public database for graphing and display on Google Earth. This data is publicly available through the GO3 website at http://go3project.com/network2/index.php/pages/ozone-data.

“We have seen tremendous improvement in the U.S. and Europe as we start to create a global trend of pollution control,” said Fishman. “As a result, the very high urban pollution levels found before the implementation of the Clean Air Act in 1970 are no longer found. On the other hand, global levels in the non-urban atmosphere are still increasing and are linked to the increased use of fossil fuels. It is a complicated problem that generally is not understood by the public. But the bottom line is that we need to think globally and act locally. It starts with reducing our carbon footprint and finding alternative ways to create energy.”

At an individual level, there are a variety of things we can all do to help reduce the emissions that lead to poor air quality. These actions include driving less by carpooling and vanpooling, using mass transit, and walking and biking when possible to get around town. Efforts to conserve energy at home and at work can also play an important role in reducing demands on power plants and the related emissions they create.

To learn more about the St. Louis Ozone gardens, visit http://www.slu.edu/department-of-earth-and-atmospheric-sciences-home/center-for-environmental-sciences/ozone-garden-home. For information on steps you can take to help reduce the emissions that lead to ozone pollution, visit The St. Louis Regional Clean Air Partnership’s website at www.cleanair-stlouis.com, find the organization on Facebook, or follow the organization on Twitter @gatewaycleanair.

About Dr. Jack Fishman:

Dr. Jack Fishman’s work on the St. Louis Ozone Garden Project is just one highlight of his distinguished career, which includes 31 years with the NASA Langley Research Center, where he was a Senior Research Scientist and Branch Head. During his time at NASA, he studied tropospheric chemistry, and pioneered the use of satellite observations that provided an eye-opening perspective of the extent of global pollution. After retiring from NASA, Fishman joined the Saint Louis University faculty as a Professor in the Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences and was subsequently appointed Director of the Center for Environmental Sciences. The first Ozone Garden was planted in 2012.