Sunshine and hot temperatures kick off the start of ozone season

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Sunshine and hotter temperatures are in the forecast for the first week of June, but air quality experts say those are the final two factors needed to complete the formula to kick off ozone season this week.

Although the summer ozone is not as visible as the winter inversion is, it can cause the same health effects such as irritating your respiratory system, reducing lung function, aggravate asthma symptoms, inflame and damage the lining of the lung.

“Those who are at risk from ozone are children, teens, the elderly, people who work or exercise outdoors, and people with existing lung and cardiovascular conditions,” said Jared Mendenhall with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

Ozone builds up gradually on hot summer days when volatile organic compounds (VOC) from paint and gas fumes and emissions from cars and lawn mowers mix with sunshine and heat.

“They break apart in the sunlight and higher temperatures. When they reform, they form what’s called ozone. Ozone is an oxidant, so when you breathe it in, it’s going to irritate your lungs. It’s been described as getting a sunburn on your lungs,” said Mendenhall.

Ozone season means a busy time at work for Ryan Bares, who is a senior laboratory specialist at the Utah Atmospheric Trace Gas and Air Quality Lab. He said his department has multiple mobile monitors around the valley that help track ozone levels.

“The national air quality standard accepted by the EPA is 70 parts per billion (ppb). That’s the point where we’re going to move into red air quality days. Today, we started to get close to that, hovering around 58 ppb,” said Bares.

Bares said wildfires can be a major contributing factor to the state’s ozone levels.

“Wildfires actually will produce a lot of emissions of other pollutants that form ozone in the atmosphere. That’s one really important distinction of the ozone is that we don’t necessarily directly emit ozone. It’s not coming out of our cars, it’s coming out of our homes when we heat them. Instead, it’s produced in the atmosphere through secondary and tertiary reactions with more volatile emissions like nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds,” he said.

Although researchers have made progress with understanding ozone, Bares said there’s still more work that needs to be done to minimize its impact on our health.

“We want to be able to provide the information to policymakers to best target how to improve our air quality. We don’t want to just do blanket solutions. We want to know what we’re working on is actually the best possible solution,” he said. “So we need to do a lot more research to truly understand what’s behind driving ozone here locally, what species are most important to target.”

Experts at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality said everyone can take part in helping to improve our air quality. They offer the following tips:

  • Using enviro-friendly products like water-based paints to cut VOCs in half
  • Buy an electric lawnmower or trimmer. Consider using any type of lawn equipment only in the evening to reduce ozone pollution
  • Rethink your trip by using transit, walking or biking. Make all your daily errands in one trip in your car. Drive a well-maintained vehicle – it emits 60 percent less than a poorly-maintained vehicle.

For more information on monitoring air quality, click here or download the Utah Air App.

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