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It’s Smog Season: What It Means and What You Can Do

Mikey Weitekamp

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Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

If you step outside today, there’s no denying that summer is officially here. Along with the good things that summer brings, like beaches, grill-outs, fishing, and freeze pops, summer also brings some not-so-good things, like mosquitoes and (drumroll please…) air pollution.

Ground level ozone (you probably know it as smog) forms when Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOC’s (the stuff that you smell when you run your lawnmower, have a bonfire, or use spraypaint) combine in the atmosphere with Nitrogen Oxides, or NOx (the stuff that comes from your car’s tailpipe) in the presence of heat and sunlight.MNAQAlert6-9-16

But wait, ozone is a good thing, right?

It is…as long as it exists in the stratosphere, protecting us from UV radiation. At ground level, it is best compared to a sunburn on your lungs, causing burning and irritation and triggering asthma attacks and cardiovascular problems. Over time, that irritation can contribute to chronic respiratory diseases and decreased lung function.

Right on cue, the warm-up over the next few days is causing ground level ozone forecasts to spike, peaking Saturday at a 97 on the air quality index, and triggering an air pollution health advisory for portions of western, central and southern Minnesota. While the high temperatures create a challenging situation, there are still some easy steps that you can take to help reduce your pollution contribution over the next few days.

  • Avoid single-occupancy car trips and gas up at night
    Cars are a source of both volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, especially if they are in need of a tune-up. Consider avoiding single-occupancy trips by carpooling, taking public transit, working from home, or, better yet, taking a summer Friday off of work. While we’re talking about cars, consider putting off gassing up until the evening, when the heat of the day has passed and ozone concentrations are declining.
  • Don’t mow your lawn
    That wonderful smell of fresh cut grass is actually volatile organic compounds being emitted into the air. These emissions come from the small engines on lawnmowers and weedwackers and from the grass itself. Be a good neighbor and consider putting off mowing for a couple of days.
  • Put off that painting project
    Again, that smell of fresh paint is actually the smell of VOC’s. If you’re planning home improvement or painting projects, consider holding off on any painting or staining until the weather cools.
  • Be Air Aware
    Knowledge is power, right? Learn about current air quality conditions, forecasts, and actions that you can take both on air quality days and in your everyday life to reduce your air pollution footprint at beairawaremn.org, a website built and curated by Clean Air Minnesota’s partners. Consider downloading the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s mobile app or signing up for e-mail or twitter alerts.

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