By Brandon Hearn
Clean water, soil and air are all components of a healthy environment.
Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas, and Jackson, Clay and Platte counties in Missouri, collectively make up the Kansas City “airshed” and work together to decrease air pollution. Kansas City has historically had problems with ozone; a common air pollutant identified by the EPA.
Ozone can be both good and bad: the good kind in the ozone layer high above the Earth that protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays and the bad kind: ground-level ozone, also known as ozone pollution or smog.
Ground-level ozone in the Kansas City region is an air quality problem, exceeding the federal health standards at times and causing health problems for many citizens. Ground-level ozone can impair breathing, cause lung damage and damage vegetation. People who are most at risk include individuals with asthma, emphysema and heart conditions as well as children, elderly and healthy adults engaged in vigorous work outdoors.
On high ozone concentration days, anyone can be at risk. Don’t be fooled just because you can’t always see smog. Meteorologists produce ozone pollution forecasts called SkyCasts using the Air Quality Index (AQI), which tells us the expected air quality based on pollution that’s anticipated for the upcoming day. AQI alerts range from green (good) to yellow (moderate) and from orange (unhealthy to sensitive groups) to red, purple and maroon (more serious stages of unhealthy to hazardous).
Ozone season, the time of the year when ground-level ozone typically reaches the highest levels, runs from March 1 through Oct. 31. Taking some simple actions can help you reduce pollution, save money and protect your health. Making minor changes to activities can help curb the effect of ozone pollution. The various appliances, devices and tools you use every day create emissions indirectly because of the energy they consume to function.
At home, you can conserve energy by turning off lights and regulating household temperatures. You should avoid chemicals that contain volatile organic compounds such as spray paint, paint thinners, glue solvents and pesticides.
While doing yard work, mow as late as possible, preferably after 7 p.m. Consider replacing any gasoline-powered equipment with electric, battery or manual powered equipment. Homeowners also can convert lawn spaces to native plants to reduce the amount of mowing and watering. Open burning should be avoided.
On the road, drivers are encouraged to consider choosing cleaner commute options, such as public transit or carsharing. Tires should be properly inflated and gas caps checked annually. A faulty gas cap can allow up to 30 gallons of fuel per year to evaporate. Ozone pollution can also be reduced by refueling in the evening.
Visit AirQKC.org for more information about ozone season and additional steps you can take to improve air quality. In Johnson County, you can find more information at jocogov.org, search Air Quality, or on Twitter at @JoCoShareTheAir.
Remember, you have the power to take care of our air!
Brandon Hearn is environmental health specialist at the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.