August 19, 2019
Ozone is a regional pollutant formed in the air from the mixing of other pollutants, mostly volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), in the presence of sunlight. VOCs are pollutants that easily evaporate in the air and are found in things like gasoline, paints, and cleaning products. NOx is created when fuel is burned from things like cars, power plants, and lawn mowers. As a regional pollutant that forms in the air, ozone may be created anywhere, not just where the NOx and VOCs are emitted.
Is Ozone Good or Bad?
The ozone layer in the upper atmosphere helps protect the earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation and is good for us. However, ozone that forms at ground level can be unhealthy at certain levels. Based on recent health studies, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has determined that any level of ozone measured above 70 parts per billion (ppb), over an eight-hour period, in the ambient (or outdoor) air is unhealthy. Above 70 ppb, ozone can cause health concerns including difficulty breathing, aggravating asthma, and chronic lung irritation.
How do I know what level ozone pollution is in my area?
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), Air Quality Division has 25 different air monitoring stations across the state to measure ozone concentrations in the air. Real time ozone monitoring data is available at www.deqmiair.org
You can also sign up to receive advanced notice about Clean Air Action! Days in your area by downloading the USEPA AIRNow app or by enrolling in EnviroFlash.
What is Nonattainment?
Nonattainment is an acknowledgement that air quality in an area has not met the USEPA health-based standard. For ozone, any level over 70 ppb is considered unhealthy and any area that has a three-year trend of unhealthy days is determined to be nonattainment by the USEPA. In Michigan, we have four areas of the state that are considered nonattainment for ozone: parts of Allegan and Muskegon counties, Berrien county, and the Southeast Michigan area.
What Actions are Necessary for Attainment?
While being in an ozone nonattainment area can seem bad, there is also an opportunity to reduce the level of harmful ozone. EGLE is tasked with finding new ways to reduce VOCs and NOx that cause ozone pollution. One way is to require companies that want to emit VOCs or NOx in the nonattainment area to find ways to reduce pollution. The result of these reductions is less ozone forming in the nonattainment area. Another way ozone pollution can be reduced is through individual action, even by people outside of the nonattainment areas.
Can I Really Make a Difference?
Yes! Individual actions can make a big difference in the amount of ozone created. VOCs and NOx are produced by a lot of everyday actions -- mowing the lawn; fueling up your car, boat, or lawn mower; driving your car; and even using electricity. Steps taken by individuals every day, but especially on Clean Air Action! Days, can really make a difference.
On Clean Air Action! Days, citizens refrain from fueling up until the evening, not mowing the lawn, using a bus, carpooling or limiting driving, and keeping the AC set just a degree or two higher. For more information on Clean Air Action! Days check out this video!
West Michigan Information -- West Michigan Clean Air Action
Statewide Information -- EGLE