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Small actions can make large differences in air quality

August 10, 2005|by CANDICE BOSLEY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Small acts add up.

Individual words create great American novels, separate brush strokes form masterpiece paintings and musical notes combine into timeless compositions.

In the Eastern Panhandle, officials with the Clean Air Connection hope small acts will help make the air cleaner and safer to breathe.

A pamphlet and Web site have been created, with tips on how everyone can help reduce ground-level ozone - commonly called smog - in the area.

Ground-level ozone has been measured in the area at levels above what is acceptable by federal standards, prompting the Berkeley County Commission, Jefferson County Commission and City of Martinsburg to enter into an Early Action Compact to try to reduce smog.

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Without the compact, the area would have been labeled as "nonattainment," which could affect economic development, officials have said.

For now, nonattainment status has been deferred until 2007 to determine whether the area can reduce its ground-level ozone to acceptable levels, said Kristin Harris, program coordinator for the Eastern Panhandle Clean Air Connection.

Some of the seven voluntary control measures created by the Clean Air Connection rely on public participation.

They include a program encouraging bicycling and walking instead of driving, raising awareness of the ozone problem among the general public and declaring certain days as Air Quality Action Days, when ground-level ozone levels are posed to be exceptionally high.

Small things people can do to help reduce ground-level ozone include refueling cars at night; commuting, carpooling or taking public transportation to work; combining errands, since cold-engine starts produce more emissions; avoiding idling at drive-through windows; postponing mowing lawns on Air Quality Action Days, since gasoline-powered lawn mowers running for an hour can emit as many pollutants as a car running for eight hours; limiting use of products like aerosol spray cans, fingernail polish, staining products and spray-on paints; and conserving energy at home and work.

Another of the seven measures created by the Clean Air Connection - retrofitting the area's school buses with devices that reduce emissions - already has been done.

Reducing the amount of time vehicles, especially large diesel trucks and buses, idle can help reduce smog, as can enforcement of open-burning laws, Harris said.

Ground-level ozone is created by a chemical reaction in heat and sunshine between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, including gasoline, paint thinners, paint solvents and alcohols, said Fred Durham, with the state Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Air Quality.

Ground-level ozone is different than the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, which protects people and the environment from harmful ultraviolet radiation.

A color-coded system has been created to describe the level of ground-level ozone. Anyone interested can receive daily e-mails outlining the forecast with regard to smog.

A Code Green forecast means the air quality is good.

A Code Yellow forecast indicates ground-level ozone levels are predicted to be moderate, with unusually sensitive people advised to reduce prolonged or intense activity outside.

A Code Orange forecast indicates ozone pollution could be unhealthy for sensitive people, particularly those with a lung condition like asthma. Code Orange forecasts are accompanied by an Air Quality Action Day alert, which includes suggestions on how people can protect their health and improve air quality.

A Code Red forecast, likely to be rare, indicates ground-level ozone levels are predicted to be unhealthy for everyone.

This summer the weather has been hot and humid, prompting a few Code Yellow forecasts, but only one day - Sunday, June 26 - was predicted to be a possible Code Orange, Harris said.

The summer ozone season began May 1 and ends Sept. 30.

For more information, or to sign up for the e-mail forecast list, go to www.cleanairconnection.org.

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