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EPA Warns New Englanders of Potential for High-Smog Days; Agency Provides Free Air Quality Forecasts and Alerts

Release Date: 05/07/04
Contact Information: Contact: Peyton Fleming (617) 918-1008

For Immediate Release: May 7, 2004 Release # 04-05-05

BOSTON – With warm weather fast approaching, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is urging New Englanders to be aware of the increased risk of ground-level ozone pollution (smog) and to take health precautions when ozone levels are high. To help the public prepare if there is poor air quality this summer, EPA is announcing the availability of free air quality forecasts and alerts.

Current air quality conditions and next day forecasts are available each day at the agency’s web site at . New Englanders can also sign up at this web address to receive “Air Quality Alerts.” These alerts, provided free by EPA in cooperation with the New England states, automatically notify participants by e-mail or fax when high concentrations of ground-level ozone or fine particles are predicted in their area.

“Ground-level ozone smog is a significant public health threat in the Northeast," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England Office. “New Englanders should pay close attention to ozone warnings and limit strenuous outdoor activity during air quality alert days. They should also take individual actions to reduce the air pollution that contributes to this public health risk.”

Throughout the spring and summer, whenever ground-level ozone concentrations are predicted to exceed the national health standard in areas in New England, EPA and the states will announce an air quality alert in these areas. EPA asks that on these days, citizens and businesses take special care to help reduce air pollution and protect the public health. Citizens can reduce ozone-smog through the following actions:

    • use public transportation or walk whenever possible;
    • if driving is necessary, go in car pools and combine errands into one trip;
    • go to the gas station at night to cut down on gasoline vapors emitted into the air during daylight hours when the sun can ‘cook’ the vapors and form ozone;
    • use less electricity by turning air conditioning to a higher temperature setting and turning off lights and computers when they are not being used;
    • avoid using gasoline-powered engines, such as lawn mowers, chain saws and leaf blowers on unhealthy air days.
Ground level ozone is considered unhealthy when average concentrations exceed 0.08 parts per million over an 8-hour period. Poor air quality affects everyone, but some people are particularly sensitive to ozone, including children and adults who are active outdoors, and people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Exposure to elevated ozone levels can cause serious breathing problems, aggravate asthma and other pre-existing lung diseases and make people more susceptible to respiratory infection. When elevated ozone levels are expected, EPA recommends that people limit strenuous outdoor activity.

Ground-level ozone is formed when volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides (NOx) interact in the presence of sunlight, particularly when temperatures are high. Ground-level ozone is distinct from ozone in the “ozone layer” 10 to 30 miles above the earth, which protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

Cars, trucks and buses are a primary source of the pollutants that make smog. Fossil fuel burning at electric power plants, particularly on hot days, also generates significant smog-forming pollution. Gas stations, print shops, household products like paints and cleaners, as well as lawn and garden equipment, also contribute to smog formation.

The federal Clean Air Act has led to significant improvements in air quality over the past 20 years. In 1983, New England had 90 unhealthy days, compared with 43 days in 2002 and 17 days during last year’s cool summer. Overall, ozone concentrations in New England have decreased 20 percent since 1980.

EPA has taken a number of steps to further reduce air pollution. EPA has set stringent emission standards for passenger vehicles and has established new requirements for gasoline. Beginning this year, new cars, pick-up trucks and sport utility vehicles are 77 to 95 percent cleaner than vehicles already on the road. EPA has also set stringent standards for heavy duty trucks and buses. Beginning this year, heavy duty trucks and buses are emitting 40 percent less NOx. In 2007, these vehicles will meet even more stringent standards and use cleaner fuel that will reduce both particulate matter and NOx emissions by more than 90 percent.

Also, EPA has proposed standards for new nonroad diesel engines used in construction, agricultural, and industrial equipment as well as nonroad diesel fuel. The combination of cleaner engines and fuel will reduce pollution from these engines by 90 percent. EPA also has set emission standards for lawn and garden equipment, marine engines and locomotives.

In addition, EPA has taken aggressive steps to reduce pollution from power plants in the eastern United States. Nineteen eastern states and the District of Columbia have adopted requirements that establish emission caps on the amount of nitrogen oxide emissions that can be emitted from power plants from May through September each year. These emission caps will result in a reduction of some 600,000 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions by the summer of 2004. Also, earlier this year, EPA proposed the Interstate Air Quality Rule, which focuses on states whose SO2 and NOx emissions are significantly contributing to fine particle and ozone pollution problems in other downwind states. The proposed Interstate Air Quality Rule covers 29 states in the Eastern US and the District of Columbia. By 2015, the rule would reduce NOx emissions by approximately 1.8 million tons.

Finally, additional improvements in air quality are expected as states begin to implement plans to meet the new 8-hour health-based ozone standard. The first step in this process occurred last month when EPA formally designated areas that are not complying with more health-protective eight hour standard that replaced a one-hour ozone standard. All of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode, as well as parts of New Hampshire and Maine, are out of compliance. States with these nonattainment areas must submit plans by 2007 that will outline how they will meet this more stringent ozone standard. A map showing the 8-hour ozone nonattainment areas in New England can be found at: .

Related Information:
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Air Quality Web Site