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Summer Smog Season Begins May 1

Release Date: 04/30/2001
Contact Information: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office (617-918-1042)

BOSTON -- With warm weather approaching, New Englanders should be aware of the increased risk of ground-level ozone pollution (smog) and take health precautions when ozone levels are high, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today.

In order to help New England residents prepare for poor air quality this summer, EPA and the New England states will provide smog forecasts and real-time animations of ozone beginning May 1. These forecasts and real-time animations are available at People can also sign up at this web address to receive "Smog Alerts."

Smog Alert is a free service, provided by EPA in cooperation with the New England states, that automatically notifies participants by e-mail or fax when high concentrations of ground-level ozone are predicted in their area. Smog Alerts are issued throughout the summer smog season, May through September.

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 during the afternoon and early evening hours, when ozone levels are highest.

"Summertime smog continues to be one of New England's biggest public health threats," said Ira Leighton, EPA New England's Acting Regional Administrator. "We are pleased to provide these public outreach programs so that New Englanders who are sensitive to smog can take the necessary precautions."

Ground-level ozone, the main ingredient of smog, is formed when volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen interact in the presence of sunlight. Ground-level ozone should not be confused with ozone in the "ozone layer" 10 to 30 miles above the earth, which protects us from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.

Ground level ozone is unhealthy when average concentrations exceed 0.08 parts per million over an eight-hour period. The federal Clean Air Act has led to significant improvements in air quality over the past 20 years. In 1999, New England had 35 unhealthy days, compared to 90 unhealthy days in 1983. During the relatively cool summer of 2000, New England experienced 20 unhealthy days. "This," said Leighton, "indicates that there is still work to be done in curbing air pollution."

In order to call attention to this issue, states in the Northeast have declared the week beginning May 21 as Ozone Awareness Week. Activities will occur throughout the region that week, including the Tour de Sol organized by the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association. The Tour de Sol: Great American Green Transportation Festival is touring Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts showcasing clean cars, trucks, buses and more. At tour stops in Waterbury, Conn; Pittsfield, Mass.; Albany, NY; and Greenfield, Worcester and Boston, Mass., attendees can participate in several events including test driving the clean vehicles. More information is available at the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association web site (

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

Throughout the 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 that the following day will be an "Ozone Action Day" in these areas. EPA asks that on Ozone Action Days, citizens and businesses take special care to help reduce air pollution and protect the public health. Citizens can help get rid of ozone-smog by taking the following actions:

    • use public transportation, bike or walk whenever possible;
    • if you must drive, go in car pools and combine trips;
    • go to the gas station at night to cut down on gasoline vapors getting into the air during daylight hours when the sun can cook the vapors and form ozone;
    • use less electricity - turn air conditioning to a higher temperature setting, turn out lights and computer screens when you're not using them;
    • avoid using gasoline-powered engines, such as lawn mowers, chain saws and leaf blowers on unhealthy air days.
Further air quality improvements are also expected from tougher tailpipe emission standards for cars and light-duty trucks, including sport utility vehicles, and limits on the amount of sulfur in gasoline that will begin in 2004. In addition, EPA has taken aggressive steps to reduce pollution from power plants upwind of New England. EPA is requiring 21 eastern states and the District of Columbia to reduce nitrogen oxides by approximately one million tons by 2004.