Rising temps lead to increased risk of poor air quality

The start of summer is just around the corner in the St. Louis area, and with it we’re enjoying blooming flowers and trees, extra hours of daylight and warmer weather. While most of us love this time of year and the opportunity to get outside, the season also signals the start of an increased risk of poor air quality conditions.

As temperatures rise, sunlight and heat react with emissions from motor vehicles, industrial facilities and other sources to create ozone pollution. The health effects of the poor air quality that result from ozone pollution are numerous and can include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, headaches, nausea, eye and throat irritation and decreased lung function.

With the region settling into the time of year when air quality conditions are often at their worst, it’s critical for area residents to monitor the air quality forecast. When conditions are expected to enter the unhealthy orange and red ranges, individuals are encouraged to step-up their voluntary efforts to reduce emissions by taking actions like using transit, carpooling, vanpooling, choosing not to idle, telecommuting and combining errands into a single trip.

To sign-up to receive the air quality forecast via email, visit our homepage. Throughout the summer, the forecast can also be found on our Facebook page or on Twitter @gatewaycleanair. For additional information on the health effects of poor air quality and tips designed to help reduce emissions, individuals are encouraged to explore our website.

St. Louis area no longer among “most-polluted” cities

Data from the American Lung Association’s 2017 “State of the Air” report has revealed that the St. Louis area is no longer ranked among the top 25 most-polluted cities in the U.S. This news reflects an overall trend in improved air quality nationwide, highlighted by lower overall ozone levels and lower year-round particle levels.

Despite this positive news, the report also notes that 40 percent of Americans are still living with unhealthy air. And, while the St. Louis area may no longer be on the 25 “most-polluted” cities list, air pollution continues to be a serious health concern for area residents. Regionwide, air pollution affects all of us – especially children, the elderly and the many individuals that suffer from respiratory disease.

As the St. Louis prepares to settle into the summer months when air quality conditions are often at their worst, the Clean Air Partnership is reminding area residents that their voluntary efforts to reduce emissions remain critical in the fight for cleaner air.

On May 1, the Clean Air Partnership will resume its daily air quality forecasts and will also ramp up its efforts to educate St. Louis residents on the health effects of air pollution and the steps they can take to keep air quality in the healthy range. Since commuting has one of the most profound effects on our air quality, actions like using transit, carpooling, vanpooling, telecommuting and combining errands into a single trip can help reduce emissions when poor air quality is forecasted. Choosing to avoid vehicle idling is another key step area residents can take to help improve air quality.

For additional information on the health effects of poor air quality and tips designed to help reduce emissions, individuals are encouraged to explore our website, like the Clean Air Partnership on Facebook or follow @gatewaycleanair on Twitter. To access the American Lung Association’s 2017 State of the Air report, visit www.lung.org.

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.

Clearing the Air on Your Way To Work

Did you know that spending an extra 10 minutes sitting in traffic during your commute can quickly adds up to 84 hours in the car per year! Traffic is wearisome, not only for you but for your health. Fumes from car exhaust, which mixes with heat and sunlight to form ground-level ozone, makes it difficult for us all to breathe. However, you can help clear the air in our region this summer by not driving in your car alone during rush hour traffic. Impossible, you think? Here are some commute ideas for you to consider.

The first option is to consider an alternate mode of transportation to work. The MetroBus and MetroLink have routes that cover St. Louis on both sides of the river, and you can log onto www.metrostlouis.org to find a schedule and route near you. Services are available for Madison County, Ill. residents from Madison County Transit at www.mct.org. In addition, Citizens for Modern Transit (CMT) offers opportunities to register your home and work addresses online via its website at www.cmt-stl.org and receive a personalized transit route from home to work, the schedules and service times for your commute.

If transit isn’t an option,try carpooling to work—it’s as easy as calling Ridefinders at 1-800-VIP-RIDE or visiting www.ridefinders.org. shutterstock_167833427Carpooling saves miles and wear on your car, and gives you someone to talk to during those long daily commutes. RideFinders can match you up with a list of potential carpoolers that both live and work near you.

An added benefit of transit and carpooling is the Guaranteed Ride Home (GRH), an incentive that provides a limited number of subsidized cab rides in case of an unexpected emergency. Both CMT and Ridefinders offer the GRH for those who use transit and carpool and vanpool.

Other programs, such as flextime and a compressed work week, may also be available through some employers. Flextime changes the hours of an employee’s workday. For example, instead of working the typical 8 am to 5 pm shift, employees flex their schedule to work 6 am to 3 pm, 10 am to 7 pm, or any other combination the employer agrees upon. A compressed work week changes the hours of your day into longer shifts, working 10 hours a day four days a week, allowing you to avoid rush hour traffic and giving you one extra day off every week!

Choosing any of these options makes sense in many ways— it saves you time and money, and, since your car is idling less in traffic, it is polluting less and helping to reduce the thousands of pounds of pollution our cars create EVERY DAY. Clean air is everyone’s responsibility; so set a good example for others by taking action and try a more environmentally friendly commute.

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.

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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.