Ozone Action Days: Here’s what to know

Here's what that really means

File: Summer heat, sunshine. (WKMG)

The National Weather Service has issued another Air Quality Alert for today.  As you are undoubtedly aware, we are in a very stagnant weather pattern of sunshine, warm summertime temperatures, and light wind, with no fronts approaching until late Sunday.  When this happens, low-level air pollutants gradually accumulate, especially ozone.

Now, you've probably heard about ozone, which is simply a gas made up of three oxygen atoms.  The ozone layer, which is about ten miles up in the stratosphere, is GOOD ozone, because it filters some of the sun's ultraviolet radiation. 

However, there is also low-level ozone, which is caused when emissions created by cars, coal power plants, etc. are chemically altered by sunlight, and this is BAD ozone because it is detrimental to humans, and especially to those with respiratory problems or who are in poor overall health.

So, what can we do to help curb that low-level ozone?  Actually, it's pretty simple:  the more we do to reduce production of the pollutants that create the ozone, the better.  For example, driving less (and holding off on errands until evening) is a big help and, of course, walking or biking instead of driving is a huge plus.  

So is holding off on using gasoline powered lawn equipment until evening - when the lowering sun can't convert those emissions into ozone (you would be absolutely stunned to know how much pollution that equipment creates).  

Something else that people don't realize is the the fumes from gasoline and even your barbecue lighter fluid reacts with sunshine to create ozone.  So delaying getting gas or barbecuing until evening also helps a LOT.  

If you have respiratory problems, or your health is significantly compromised by other health issues, do not overexert yourself on Ozone Action Days.  And if there are strenuous activities you need to do, doing them early in the morning before the pollution builds up is best.

On Thursday, two people with pre-existing health issues e-mailed me to say that the increased low-level ozone caused them problems.  One mentioned that she was taking out the garbage, and all of sudden started "huffing and puffing"...she immediately felt better after getting back inside into the air conditioning.  The other viewer told me that she suddenly had symptoms similiar to an asthma attack.

Those who are healthy and have little or no health concerns can enjoy their normal activities today but, if you are in poor health, it’s better not to further stress your system on an Ozone Action Day.

More: Weather Center -- Science and weather news

About the Author:

Local 4 meteorologist Paul Gross was born in Detroit and has spent his entire life and career right here in southeast Michigan. Paul has researched, written and produced eight half-hour documentaries for WDIV, as well as many science, historical and environmental stories.