What is summer ozone and how can we combat its effects?

Summer ozone occurs when chemical emissions react with sunlight and heat. Whenever you drive a car, use gasoline-powered yard tools, or enjoy air conditioning indoors, Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released into the air. These chemicals bake in the sunlight and create what we call “summer ozone,” which contaminates the quality of the air we breathe. Summer ozone is not visible, like inversion is in the winter, making it potentially more dangerous if citizens are not aware of its impact. 

Why is it harmful?

Short-term, summer ozone causes difficulty breathing. Long-term, summer ozone can be like sunburn in the lungs. While summer ozone can be harmful to everyone, those who are young, elderly or have pre-existing health conditions are at particular risk. Luckily, ozone has a daily cycle because of lower temperatures in the morning and evening. To avoid the worst of summer ozone, do your best to enjoy the beautiful weather and best quality of air in the mornings, late afternoons and evenings when temperatures are lower. 

How to make a difference

Active transportation: Mobile emissions are the leading contributor to summer ozone. The next time you’re heading to the grocery store down the street or to your favorite local restaurant, travel by foot, bike or scooter — instead of by car — to reduce emissions. 

Carpool/transit: If you have a longer trip ahead of you, consider carpooling or taking public transit. Pick up a friend in your area on your way to dinner or make plans to meet up and take transit together for more fun and fewer harmful emissions. 

Trip-chain: One easy way to reduce your emissions is by trip-chaining. When you’re getting organized for the week ahead, run multiple errands at once. Stop for gas, get groceries and go to the bank to avoid making individual stops and wasting fuel.

Electric lawn equipment: Summer is the perfect time to kick back and enjoy the great outdoors. Of course, we all know getting the yard to look its best isn’t always an easy task and can contribute to summer ozone. Instead of using a lawnmower that runs on gas, consider investing in electric yard tools. 

Take a break from AC: Got a few fans lying around the house? Take a break from the AC and stay cool old-school. If you spend the majority of the day out of the house, opt for fans and open windows instead of relying on your air conditioner. 

Know your products: Buy products that encourage environmental consciousness. Be sure to research the products you purchase and choose those that are EPA or B-certified. Avoid products that are made with harmful chemicals or VOCs. If you haven’t repainted in a while, consider updating your walls with water-based paint that contains few or no VOCs to improve indoor air quality. 

Download the UtahAir app to track air quality: The Utah Department of Environmental Quality developed an app to track air quality and warn Utahn’s when it is unhealthy to be outside for extended periods of time. Download the app for details and updates on Utah’s air.  

Do it digitally: Every time you shop online, you promote better air quality for everyone! With the technology we have today, it’s easy to stay home and skip commuter traffic while still accomplishing everything on your to-do list. Work from home or buy online to reduce your mobile emissions. 

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