What is ozone?
Ozone is a gas that can occur both in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and at ground level. Atmospheric ozone is vital for protecting life from the Sun’s ultraviolet rays. At the ground level, however, ozone is harmful to humans and the environment.
Ground-level ozone is formed when oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) react in the presence of sunlight and heat. The primary sources of NOx are fossil fuel combustion by industry (especially coal-fired power plants) and mobile sources, such as cars and trucks. VOCs come from the evaporation of gasoline, paint, solvents, consumer products, varnishes and industrial chemicals.
Ozone in Omaha
Though Omaha’s air appears relatively clean, health studies have shown that levels of ozone typical of the Omaha area can cause a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. Particularly susceptible are young children, the elderly, people with prior lung problems like emphysema, bronchitis, and asthma, and, to a lesser degree, otherwise healthy individuals who work or exercise outdoors.
Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed lowering the standard for ozone from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to somewhere between 60 and 70 ppb. Depending on exactly where the final standard is set, the Omaha metro area could find itself in non-attainment with the ozone standard. A non-attainment status designation would mean stricter regulations on a wide range of activities, including new and existing industry growth, as well as transportation. It was with this prospect in mind that the City of Omaha joined with the States of Nebraska and Iowa, the EPA, the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA), and interested stakeholders from the Metro area in the Ozone Community Based Planning Process. Click here to find out more this voluntary effort to reduce emissions of ozone precursors in Omaha and the surrounding area.
What can you do?
We all can help make our air cleaner and easier to breathe. You don’t have to change your entire life… just take some little steps to make a big impact.
• Refuel your vehicle during the cooler parts of the day like in the morning or late evening. The gasoline is denser, so you’ll actually get more gas into you tank – and less into the air.
• When you fill your car, stop at the first click. You need that extra room in your tank to allow the gasoline to expand. Otherwise it evaporates into your car’s vapor collection system, which makes your car less efficient and puts more pollution into the air.
• Keep your car running right. Make sure your tires are filled properly to get the best possible gas mileage. And get rid of the baggage! It only takes 100 pounds in your trunk to reduce your fuel economy.
• Consider using a manual or electric mower, leaf blower or trimmer because those small gas-powered engines release as much as 25% unburned gasoline into the air! If you must use gas-powered equipment, try to fill and use them after 6pm when it’s cooler and your fuel economy is best.
• Wash your clothes in cold water. Hot water accounts for 90% of the energy used to wash clothes. Choosing the warm setting cut a load’s energy use by half; choosing cold reduces it even further. Wash only full loads, and always clean your dryer’s lint filter after each use so the air circulates better. By saving energy, you not only reduce your monthly bills, but you also reduce the pollution in the air.
• Save energy in your home by using CFL light bulbs and installing a programmable thermostat. Also strategically planting a tree can help you save on your energy bills by shading your home in the summer and acting as a windbreak in the winter. Burning fossil fuels produces most of the energy we use… and more energy equals more pollution.