July 2, 2010

Green City? Brown Air. ~ Beth Bartel

Boulder County Clean Air Challenge, + Why Air Quality Stinks in the Summer.

((Boulder, Colorado)) So what’s wrong with ozone? The whole problem is that it’s going away, right?

Well, yes—up high. The layer of ozone up in the atmosphere protects us from the sun’s harmful rays. This is good.

Ground-level ozone, on the other hand, is bad. It’s smog; it makes us cough, makes our eyes water, aggravates our asthma. It effects people susceptible to breathing ailments the most, including children—whose lungs are still developing—but it affects healthy adults, too, especially those of us who like to spend our free time outside.

Ground-level ozone forms when certain emissions combine with other pollutants and react with sunlight…which is why summer is such a smoggy time.

Heat + sunlight + chemicals = ground-level ozone.

Hot, sunny days are the worst. Fires, common in our forests in the summer, crank out the ozone big time, but we people definitely have a hand in it too—and we do it right in our population centers, where it effects us the most.

We can’t blame it all on industry. Gabi Hoefler, environmental health specialist for Boulder County Public Health (BCPH), says industry is now highly regulated, and while a lot of pollution still comes from the industrial sector, the biggest problem—and the one we can easily do something about— is cars. Cars, cars, cars. Fueling, driving, idling. Other polluters include painting, solvent use, and, certainly not to be overlooked, lawn mowing.

To encourage folks to reduce emissions this summer, Boulder County is hosting its annual Clean Air Challenge, a call to leave the car at home at least one day a week and take alternative transportation. Gabi says they’re not asking much; take a bus, bike or walk, work from home or combine errands to make one trip out tomorrow rather than one today and one tomorrow. And, they’ll be giving away over 40 prizes. Take on the challenge, learn about your emissions through their website, and maybe win something besides.

Other simple ways to reduce emissions:

  • – Get yourself an electric lawnmower. Rebates are available through Boulder County. (Or, take it a step further and look into xeroscaping!) If these aren’t viable options for you, try mowing in the evening.
  • – Refuel your tank after dark.
  • – Paint in the evenings rather than during the day.

The Challenge started last week, but it’s not too late to join. Check out http://www.bouldercountyair.org to sign up, to keep track of your own emissions, to learn more about ground-level ozone and to see data on Boulder County air quality. Do it for the kids. Do it for, well, all of us breathing in Boulder County.

Beth Bartel lives in Boulder, interns at elephant journal and KGNU, and likes swinging on big swings.

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