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Record Heat Brings “Code Purple” to Metro Atlanta

I would like to introduce you to my friend and Director of Mothers & Others for Clean Air, Rebecca Watts Hull. For over five years, Rebecca has been a driving force behind Mothers & Others for Clean Air, tirelessly educating the public about the dangers of poor air quality.

By Rebecca Watts Hull

Record Heat Brings “Code Purple” to Metro Atlanta

The severity of smog season depends both on emissions—nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution from tailpipes and smokestacks—and weather conditions. Hot, dry air and intense sunlight create the best conditions for ozone to form.

Over the past week Georgia and much of the United States experienced record heat, with perfect conditions for cooking up ozone in the atmosphere. Last Friday, tailpipe pollution also was likely high in Atlanta, with the usual Friday afternoon traffic tangles as commuters tried to get an early start on the weekend.

With this perfect storm of record heat and clogged roadways, Georgia’s smog forecasting team predicted “code red” for ozone on Friday, June 29, meaning ozone concentrations were expected to reach levels unhealthy for all individuals. What was observed, however, was even worse—“code purple,” meaning the air was very unhealthy for anyone to breathe.

The current federal limit, or standard, for ozone is 75 parts per billion (ppb), with scientists and health experts recommending a lower limit between 60 and 70 ppb. Air quality monitors around metro Atlanta recorded 8-hour average ozone concentrations for Friday, June 29 as high as 122 ppb, in the “code purple” range, with weekend levels hitting “code red.”

What’s a Family To Do?

Ozone is a powerful irritant, causing what doctors describe as “sunburn on the lungs.” Ozone exposure reduces lung function growth in children, triggers asthma attacks and can cause respiratory symptoms in otherwise healthy individuals. Recently, studies also have linked high ozone concentrations with inflammation and other biological markers associated with heart attacks. As a result, families should check air quality daily during smog season (http://www.georgiaair.org/smogforecast/) and learn how to avoid peak pollution times to reduce exposure (http://mothersandothersforcleanair.org/getinformed.html).

Air Pollution & Climate Change

Because hot, dry weather creates ideal conditions for ozone, climate change is expected to worsen ozone pollution in Georgia. Long-term, the only way to get beyond “bad air days” is to reduce the biggest sources of nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution and address climate change. Cars and trucks and coal-fired power plants are the biggest sources of both NOx and greenhouse gases, so policies and personal action that reduce fossil fuel-generated power use and tailpipe pollution can solve the problem. When we reduce pollution from power plants and vehicles, we are helping air quality both short-term and long-term.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working hard to strengthen federal air quality standards and implement critical new rules limiting pollution from power plants. We need to support EPA in these steps and also work at the state and local levels to advance clean energy and provide clean transit alternatives to car travel.


You can follow Rebecca on Twitter @MOCleanAir

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