Ozone monitoring and forecast season begins for WNC

From WNC Regional Air Quality Agency:

The ozone monitoring and forecast season began on March 1, 2016.  This is the first year that ozone monitoring and forecasts have begun in March.  During ozone season, our agency will begin daily forecasts for both the valleys and ridgetops of Asheville and Buncombe County.

Air quality across the state has improved significantly over the past decade due to declining emissions from industry and motor vehicles and more stringent standards. Over the past three years, ozone levels have been the lowest since the state began monitoring the air in the early 1970s. All of North Carolina currently meets the new, more stringent federal ozone standard that was adopted in October 2015.

As part of its mission the WNC Regional Air Quality Agency reports air quality forecasts which are related to two pollutants, ozone and fine particles.    Our ozone season is March 1 – October 31 of each year.  Our Agency reports (usually by 4:00pm) what the projected air quality will be for the next day.  We begin notifying each school via email of daily air quality forecasts starting March 1st thru the end of October. We also notify if there is an air quality alert due to high particulate levels during the rest of the year.  This will alert you of “Air Quality Action Days” when unhealthy air quality conditions are predicted in the code yellow, code orange, code red, or code purple categories.  An “Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Air Quality Guide for Ozone,” detailing the various levels of air pollution alerts and their health consequences, is found on our website.

The Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency encourages you to consider establishing policies to protect children from avoidable exposure to harmful high air pollution levels.  Some policies you might consider include arranging indoor alternatives to regularly scheduled outdoor activities (recess, athletic practices, etc.) for days when unhealthy air quality levels are predicted. Adopting an anti-idling policy for cars and buses can also be beneficial.

Ozone is a naturally occurring, colorless gas.  During the warmer months, levels of ozone can increase well above natural levels due to chemical reactions between emissions from automobiles, electric utilities, and pollutants from other sources.   Excessive ozone at ground level is harmful to health, especially to the health of school-aged children.

The airway of a child is narrow and irritation that would produce only a slight response in an adult can result in potentially significant obstruction in the airway of a child.  Children breathe more rapidly and inhale more pollutant per pound of body weight than do adults.  In addition, ozone may hamper proper development a child’s lungs, which are more sensitive and susceptible to damage from air pollution.  Asthmatic children playing outdoors on high ozone days are 20-40 percent more likely to suffer an asthmatic exacerbation.

Particle pollution, which consists of very small particles and liquid droplets in the air, can be harmful to breathe and contributes to haze and other air quality problems. Fine particles can penetrate deeply into the lungs and absorb into the bloodstream, causing or aggravating heart and lung diseases. Persons most susceptible to particle pollution include those with heart and respiratory conditions, the elderly and young children.

Unlike ozone, which is usually highest in the afternoons, particle levels can be high at any time of the day. Sensitive groups should take special care to limit their physical activity during high particle periods.

Citizens can obtain air quality information by visiting our site at http://www.wncairquality.org and air quality forecasts by visiting https://xapps.ncdenr.org/aq/ForecastCenter.

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