Ozone Action day declared for southeast Michigan, potential for poor air quality

Posted at 5:07 AM, Jul 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-18 13:38:22-04

Thursday will be exceptionally hot, but the warm weather ushers in more than uncomfortable heat — breathing conditions may be hazardous to children, elderly and people who deal with lung issues ranging from asthma to COPD.

The ozone layer helps protect us when it’s high in the sky; but on hot, muggy, sunny days ozone can form closer to the ground as it mixes with pollution. The poor air quality results in regional “Ozone Action Days.”

Those who are susceptible to lung damage should avoid outdoor exposure.

Dr. Farvah Fatima, with Henry Ford Health Systems, adds that parents should pay special attention to kids who can’t always vocalize concerns about uncomfortable conditions.

“It’s imperative for parents, tears and caregivers to be more cognizant of children — especially those that are asthmatic — to be on the lookout for symptoms,” said Dr. Fatima.

It’s not unusual for urgent cares and hospitals to see a spike in visits for lung-related issues on Ozone Action Days. The most common symptoms that lead to hospital visits include shortness of breath, teasing and coughing.

While the heat plays a role in today’s warning, it’s important to understand the history of the problem. Air pollution in southeast Michigan has lowered, but it continues to fuel the problem. A recent report from the American Lung Associate found that Detroit has the 12th-worst year-round particle pollution. The report notes, “Ozone can even shorten life itself.”

Ozone concerns in Michigan are typically tied to high population areas with industrial sites. For example, the only areas with a warning from the DEQ on Thursday include metro Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Benton Harbor — some of the most densely populated, and highest manufacturing areas in our state. That doesn’t mean steps can’t be taken to lessen the load on an individual basis.

SEMCOG, the Southeast Michigan Council on Governments, releases a list of steps that can be taken to improve the ozone levels on major days. That includes reducing drive times through carpooling, or at a minimum combining errands. You can also leave your thermostat a few degrees higher to consume electricity. Similarly, turning off lights and reducing energy consumption as a whole helps. It’s also recommended that you avoid fueling a vehicle during daylight — if you can’t wait, don’t top off the tank.

“We believe small actions taken by many individuals can make a difference,” said Sue Steeler, the director of SEMCOG. “This is one way that each resident can take their own actions and reduce the amount of pollution that contributes to ozone.”

Further actions can be taken in daily life to lessen your impact on pollution, SEMCOG suggests the following steps:

* Keep your vehicle in good working order. Performing regular maintenance and oil changes, as well as keeping tires properly inflated, can significantly improve gas mileage and extend your car's life. It can also reduce your car's pollution by more than half and reduce traffic congestion by preventing vehicle breakdowns.
* Always make sure your vehicle’s gas cap is tightly closed. A loose or faulty cap can leak one gallon of gasoline into the air every two weeks.
* Park in the shade. This will prevent evaporative emissions caused by the sun heating your gas tank while your vehicle is parked.
At home:
* Save electricity. Adjust your air conditioner temperature a few degrees higher and turn off appliances and lights when not in use.
* Replace old light bulbs with longer-lasting Energy Star lightbulbs
* Brown bag it or walk to lunch instead of driving to a restaurant.
* Telecommute. If possible, work from home occasionally. You'll save time and money, and reduce emissions and traffic congestion.
* Use teleconferencing technologies instead of driving to meetings.

SEMCOG notes that while industry and automobiles have gotten cleaner over time, more improvements are needed to lower the number of Ozone Action Days that are needed. The Detroit area saw a spike of ozone issues in 2012 with 21 days where the levels could be damaging, since then the number has averaged closer to 4 1/2 per year with occasional spikes including 9 days last year.