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High temperatures mean an increase ground-level ozone pollution

Clock tower in Riverfront Park in Spokane, WA

Summer is officially here and so is the heat. In the next week and a half, Spokane is likely to see triple digits on more than one occasion. As the temperatures begin to rise, so does ground-level ozone pollution in our area.

Ozone can be found in two locations – in the Earth’s upper atmosphere where it protects us from UV radiation and at ground-level on the Earth’s surface. When ozone is found at ground-level it is a harmful air pollutant that is a key component in smog. Exposure to elevated ground-level ozone pollution can cause respiratory problems and aggravates asthma in children.

Healthy adults can experience a 15-20% reduction in lung function from prolonged exposure to low levels of ground-level ozone pollution.

Ground-level ozone pollution is formed by photo-chemical reactions between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight and heat. Because of how it forms, ozone pollution is only a concern during the hot, summer months – typically late June through August in Spokane.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are emitted to the air from a variety of activities, including:

  • Industrial and commercial operations
  • Vehicle refueling, driving
  • Using lawnmowers and other gas-powered equipment
  • Using products such as cleaners, paints/solvents, BBQ lighter fluid, etc.
Ozone trends chart

Above: The chart tracks Spokane’s ground-level ozone pollution trends. As you can see, our groud-level ozone pollution concentrations come very near to the health-based standard that is set by the EPA.

The good news is we can all make choices to prevent ground-level ozone pollution. You can help by:

  • Reduce car trips by combining errands. Walk, bicycle or ride the bus once a week, instead of driving alone.
  • Refuel in the evening. This keeps ozone-forming vapors out of the air during the heat of the day.
  • Hold off using gas-powered lawn equipment until evening.
  • Use manual or electric yard and garden tools.
  • If you use a charcoal barbecue, start it with an electric probe instead of lighter fluid.

During the summer, it’s important to monitor the Air Quality Index and take health-based precautions. When ground-level ozone pollution reaches unhealthy levels, limit strenuous outdoor activity. If you exercise outdoors, do so early when ozone pollution is lower. Also, pay attention to respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, discomfort. See your health care provider if necessary.