As the summer season approaches, Montgomery County residents are reminded that the County’s Ride On bus service will continue to offer free rides on Code Red and Code Purple Air Quality Action days. Residents in the Washington D.C. region may experience more Air Quality Action days this year because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ozone in March to better protect public health and welfare. A Code Orange air quality forecast indicates air quality that fails to meet the new strengthened Federal standards.
Montgomery County was the first jurisdiction in the region to offer free rides on Code Red days because vehicles generate 30 to 40 percent of the pollutants that cause ozone in the Baltimore/Washington area.
“Maryland’s suburban Washington region suffers from some of the worst air pollution in the nation – and the failure to address this situation is impacting public health and our economy,” said Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett. “Montgomery County is aggressively working to improve our air quality and mitigate emissions at a local level. We hope that residents, particularly on unhealthy air quality days, will also take simple steps like taking transit or carpooling and delaying outdoor mowing and painting to help protect our environment.”
Ozone has been shown to cause bronchitis, nonfatal heart attacks and premature death; increase hospital and emergency room visits, and aggravate asthma. Repeated exposure to ozone also damages sensitive vegetation and trees, leading to increased susceptibility to disease, pests and damaged foliage.
The Air Quality Index (AQI), EPA’s tool for communicating air quality to the public, was also updated to reflect the change in the health standard. Under the new standards, Air Quality Index (AQI) levels for Code Orange and Code Red days will now be reached at lower ozone concentrations. The AQI includes five color codes: Code Green for good air quality; Code Yellow for moderate air quality; Code Orange, considered unhealthy for sensitive groups; Code Red which is unhealthy and indicates everyone should limit outdoor activities; and Code Purple for very unhealthy air quality. Code Orange days will be determined when ozone levels reach the lower standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) as opposed to 84 ppb under the previous standard, and Code Red days will now occur when the ozone level reaches 96 ppb instead of the previous level of 105 ppb.
Unhealthy levels of ozone occur in the summer as strong sunlight reacts with volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), nitrogen oxides and other chemicals. Ozone-forming pollutants originate from vehicles, lawnmowers and boats; emissions from power plants and other fuel burning equipment; and vapors from gasoline, paints and industrial processes.
Residents can reduce their impact on air quality if they:
• Carpool, telecommute, or take mass transit to work (ONLY Code Red and Purple are ride free days in Montgomery County for both Ride On and Metrobus);
• Limit driving and combine errands;
• Refuel after dark;
• Avoid using gasoline-powered lawn equipment, including mowers;
• Wait for a cooler day to use oil-based paints or switch to non-solvent or low VOC based paints;
• Avoid using aerosols and household products that contain solvents;
• Bring a lunch to work to avoid mid-day driving; and
• Conserve energy—at home, at work, and everywhere.
Every summer day, gas-powered lawn and garden equipment releases more than 100 times the VOC’s of a typical large industrial plant. For every person who postpones lawn mowing on Air Quality Action days, potential VOC reductions equal the amount generated by a car driving from Baltimore to Raleigh, North Carolina.
Although the Washington region has successfully lowered overall pollution and reduced the number of Code Red days each summer, the area is still in violation of Federal air quality standards established under the Clean Air Act for ozone and particulate matter. In addition to concerns about public health effects caused by poor air quality, the region could also lose federal funds for highway projects if Federal standards are not met. This could ultimately lead to even worse levels of congestion and air quality.
For more information visit the County’s Department of Environmental Protection’s website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/dep, or call 240-777-7700. For information on Ride On bus schedules, call the Transit Information Center at 240-777-7433, or check the County’s web site at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/rideon.
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