June 1 marks the beginning the summer ozone season along Colorado’s Front Range. Ozone Action Alerts are issued on days when meteorologists from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) expect weather conditions to lead to increased ground-level ozone concentrations in the metropolitan-Denver and Front Range region. The cities of Loveland, Fort Collins, and Greeley are included in the alert area.
Ozone that occurs at ground level is an important air pollutant. Elevated levels can cause symptoms in people that include stinging eyes and throat, chest pains, coughing and respiratory distress. Those at highest risk of symptoms due to elevated ozone levels include the elderly, young active children, and anyone with a pre-existing respiratory condition such as emphysema or asthma. Even healthy adults who spend a lot of time working or exercising outdoors may be affected by elevated ozone levels. During ozone alert days, people can lower their risk of developing symptoms by limiting prolonged outdoor exercise. Particularly sensitive individuals may even be advised to stay indoors.
Ozone is different from most other air pollution in that it is not emitted directly into the atmosphere. Instead, ozone forms in the lower atmosphere when other primary emissions react in the presence of heat and sunlight. Those emissions are volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. The sources of these ozone forming emissions include cars and trucks, industrial operations, oil and gas wells, residential activities such as mowing lawns and using paints and stains, as well as from naturally-occurring sources such as volatile organics from evergreen trees.
Ozone alerts serve two important purposes: They provide specific health advice for people who may be affected by elevated ozone levels, and they inform the community about steps that can be taken to help reduce ozone during those times. Because ozone formation occurs when air emissions bake in the hot summer sun, citizens can help by taking voluntary steps to reduce these pollutants. Some suggestions for individual action include:
• Keep your car tuned and tires well inflated to increase mileage and reduce fuel use
• Stop at the click when refueling your car or truck to limit vapors at the gas pump
• Refuel after dusk in the summer to avoid the period of intense sunlight
• Bring your lunch to work so you don’t need to drive
• Combine trips, take the bus, or postpone a trip during an alert if possible
• If you use a gas-powered mower, delay lawn mowing until evening to avoid the period of intense ozone formation
• Avoid painting and staining projects in the heat of the day
• Use water-based paints and stains
• Avoid idling you car unnecessarily while waiting at the drive-up, in parking lots or at train crossings.
Ozone also occurs in the upper atmosphere at an altitude of 10 to 30 miles above the Earth’s surface. This upper-level ozone is not a form of air pollution, and in fact blocks ultraviolet rays thereby protecting us from skin cancer, cataracts, and possibly immune system damage.
More information about ozone in our region is available at www.ozoneaware.org. A link on that website allows individuals to sign up to receive a daily email ozone level advisory.