Ozone Action Days

Three Quick Tips to a More Enjoyable Summer

By Ashley McAvoy

We all have our favorite season of the year but I think that summer is mine. During the summer you can enjoy barbeques, going to the beach, and even camping. I absolutely love summer! But, I have to admit while it’s all fun in the sun, we need to be aware of environmental and health problems that occur during these hot summer months. Here are some tips for you to enjoy this season.

Here comes the sun…

Did you know that the sun’s rays are the strongest during the summer? This means we need to use plenty of sunscreen and wear a hat when doing activities outside. Also, planning your outdoor activities in the morning or evening when the sun is not as strong will help too. I like to run. So when I go running in the summer, I try to run in the evening when it’s a little cooler. You can also check the UV Index to find out how strong the sun’s rays are in your area so you can plan accordingly for that day.

Them pesky skeeters…

If there is one thing I can’t stand its getting attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes when I’m trying to enjoy a nice summer evening outside. That’s why it’s important to make it harder for mosquitoes to breed in your backyard. If you have any standing water in your yard from birdbaths, wading pools, or even garden fountains, these are the perfect breeding environments for mosquitoes. Remove all standing water or replace it weekly to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in your yard. Check out the EPA website for more tips on repelling mosquitoes.

Fill ‘er up…

You know when you fill up the tank of your car or truck there’s always a gasoline smell? Did you know that those gasoline vapors are actually bad for you and the environment? What’s worse is that gasoline vapors increase in the summertime because of the hot and humid conditions. The next time that you refuel your car or truck, make sure that the gas cap is secure so you don’t let excess vapors into the air. Also, try not to refuel on ozone action days. If you must refuel on an ozone action day, do it in the morning or evening when the sun’s rays are not as strong.

Enjoy your summer!

About the author: Ashley McAvoy is an Intern with the Office of Web Communications for spring 2013. She is a double major in Environmental Studies and Hispanic Studies at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Green Heart: Spreading the Word about Air Pollution and Your Health

By Kathy Sykes

When I moved to Washington DC from my native Madison, Wisconsin, I missed the clean air that I had taken for granted.  Summers in DC with sweltering temperatures and “Ozone Action Days” made it feel difficult to breathe just walking to work.  On those days, a song kept playing in my head, “Pollution,” by satirist Tom Lehrer.

“Pollution, pollution, Wear a gas mask and a veil. Then you can breathe, long as you don’t inhale.”

I couldn’t see the harmful air pollution, but it weighed heavy on my chest on my daily jogs around Capitol Hill.   Even though my work at the time (for the Senate Aging Committee) included health issues, I never worked on raising awareness about air pollutants and their serious harmful effects on older adults, especially those living with heart disease.

That’s changed now that I’m at EPA, where I serve on the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics. Periodically, the Forum publishes a chart book of key indicators of well-being, including an indicator on air quality and older adults.

In 2012, the Forum released its fourth update on air quality and demonstrated progress made overtime with respect to the two most harmful air pollutants for older adults: PM 2.5 (also known as particulate matter), and ozone.  The chart book shows (click on the link for Indicator 27) the percent of people living in counties with air pollutants above the EPA health-based standards.

Each state monitors air quality and reports it to EPA.  The EPA then determines whether air pollutant measurements are above health standards.  In 2002, nearly half of the population lived in counties with poor air pollution. By 2010, about 40% of our population lived in a county with poor air quality for some period that year.

While we are making progress, more work remains to be done.

Another federal collaborative effort I devote my time to is the National Prevention Strategy (NPS) that was created as part of the Affordable Care Act.   Seventeen federal agencies work together to look at what we can do to advance health prevention.

Led by Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, each federal agency announced commitment areas as part of the NPS.  One of EPA’s is through the Green Heart initiative which strives to educate people about air pollution and how they can reduce their exposure on poor air quality days.

The Green Heart initiative complements the Million Heart Campaign, an initiative by the Department of Health and Human Services to prevent a million heart attacks over five years.  The Green Heart Initiative has a simple message for people with cardiovascular disease: check the Air Quality Index and reduce your activity on days when the air quality is not good.

There is even an app that will notify you when the air quality is unhealthy. A fact sheet, Environmental Hazards Weigh Heavy on the Heart, for older adults and their caregivers can be ordered on-line on EPA’s Aging web page.

While there are still counties where air pollution is an issue, I’m glad to know there are actions we can take to protect our heart health.

About the Author: Kathy Sykes has been working for the EPA since 1998 where she focuses on older adults and the built environment and healthy communities.  In 2012, she joined the Office of Research and Development and serves as Senior Advisor for Aging and Sustainability.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Science Wednesday: Breathing New Life into Air Quality Forecasting in Towns Big and Small

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

I’m from a small town in Colorado. Not much industry, not many people. It was great growing up with clean air, clear streams, corn fields, cows, and wide open skies.

Now I work at one of EPA’s greatest facilities with scientists who specialize in understanding air pollution exposure. Because of this, more than ever, I pay attention to air quality.

EPA’s commitment to clean air has resulted in many excellent modeling and analysis tools that can warn people about unhealthy air quality — including “Ozone Action Day” alerts. Some people get these warnings from newspapers or their local weather forecaster, or from AirNow — a web-based clearinghouse that offers daily air quality index forecasts for approximately 300 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas. The AirNow database was developed in 1998 by EPA, NOAA, Environment Canada, and the U.S. National Park Service along with state, local and tribal air agencies.

Growing up, the same person who presented the local weather forecast on the evening news also served as the agricultural reporter. She did her best with the available information, but was clearly more skilled in reporting on cows and corn than the weather.

But I’ve wondered — do small-town citizens routinely get accurate information about air quality from their local weather forecasters? Not sure.

But they could.

It’s available through the National Air Quality Forecast Guidance, a tool developed by EPA and NOAA scientists that generates air quality forecasts — for the entire country.

SWMAPEPA researcher Brian Eder, and colleagues recently evaluated the guidance to see if it was — or wasn’t — providing local ozone forecasts every bit as accurate as those provided by AirNow. The results: the guidance delivers!

Eder’s paper, “Using National Air Quality Forecast Guidance to develop local air quality index forecasts,” in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, explains how people who aren’t trained air quality forecasters can use the guidance to generate localized information that can help people make smarter health decisions regarding outdoor activities on high ozone days.

The economy is such that hiring a trained air quality forecaster probably isn’t on my town’s list of priorities. Nonetheless, I hope towns big and small will discover, and use the guidance to better serve their citizens and protect public health.

About the author: Robin Baily is a writer/editor at EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.