Alert for breathers: Ozone season begins today

When I filled up my car yesterday morning, the weather was cloudy and cool.

Normally, when the pump automatically clicks off, I put a bit more in the tank. But instead, I stopped fueling when the pump did so there wouldn't be any spillage.

I figured ozone season was close. And, indeed, it starts today.

Ground level ozone, or smog, is caused when sunlight and high temperatures react with the pollutants emitted by motor vehicles and power plants, mostly. Smog has small particles and toxins that can exacerbate lung problems and asthma symptoms, worsen heart problems and in some cases cause premature death.

Currently, the region does not meet the federal air quality standards for ground-level ozone.

But help and guidance are close at hand.

From May 1 through September, the Air Quality Partnership (AQP), a program of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, provides air quality forecasts to the public.

It also lists steps we can all take to reduce smog:

  • Don’t top off your gas tank. Overall, spillage adds two tons of pollution to the air each day.
  • Refuel at the end of the day. Ozone levels are highest in mid- to late-afternoon.
  • Clean out your trunk; an extra 100 pounds reduces gas mileage by up to 2 percent and wastes fuel.
  • Combine errands, or “trip-link,” when possible.
  • Follow regular maintenance schedules for your car. A properly running vehicle emits less pollution and saves gas.
  • Take transit or rideshare.

Health officials warn those with asthma, heart or lung disease or other conditions that could be worsened by air pollution to limit their outdoor time on high-ozone days.

To sign up for air quality alerts, visit www.airqualitypartnership.org. Daily air quality forecasts and helpful tips are also available on the website or by calling 1-800-872-7261.

The city's Department of Public Health also posts a daily forecast, at phila.gov/aqi.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a free app, AIRNow, that maps current conditions and ranks them, from good to hazardous. The information is also on the website AIRNow.gov.

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