Fifteen days in 2010 have been observed to be over the limit as satisfactory for ground-level ozone as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency. Last year, 14 days made the grade as "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups." All but one of this year's ozone exceedances fell in the same category until July 7 marked the first Code Red, or "Unhealthy," air quality warning since 2008.
"Last year was a terrific year in the sense that we did not have to deal with any Code Red violations for smog. This year, it happened and I think that's a real wake-up call that we still have a lot of work to do as a state, and a region specifically, to get ourselves further way from these conditions that can form unhealthy ozone exposure," said Brian Carr, director of communications for The Clean Air Campaign.
Last year saw a relatively low number of ozone exceedances following 29 observed exceedances in both 2008 and 2007. Before that was a total of 30 exceedances in 2006 showing a sharp decrease over the past four years.
"The overall pattern is positive and a lot of the success that has taken place in the region is a combination of regulatory controls -- things that may be put in place to help regulate smoke coming out of a smoke stack for a coal fired power plant -- there is technology now and a greater use of it that helps to minimize the amount of emissions that come from some of those sources and those are driven by regulatory agencies. The other big piece to this is voluntary actions -- those taken by the business community, by commuters themselves to not drive alone as often -- and the two of those things together have really helped over the years to really improve air quality," Carr said.
This year's increase has been slight thus far but more than 40 days remain in smog season. However, historically the worst is over for air quality. In the past two years, one day was recorded in ozone exceedance each year after Aug. 15. Heat and stagnant air are major factors leading to higher levels of ozone gas attributing to smog. This has had the effect of lowering air quality which can lead to health concerns, especially for sensitive groups with chronic lung and heart conditions. Daily forecasts are available at www.cleanaircampaign.org.
"One of the big things that we have observed this year is that it has been hotter out. Everyone can see that, undeniably, last year was significant in that the region was able to break the drought because there was presence of more rainfall, slightly cooler temperatures -- this year we haven't seen those conditions replicate themselves. It's a much hotter, drier summer and there's a long way to go before we see some relief that is lasting," Carr said.
To aid in improving the quality of metro-Atlanta's air, The Clean Air Campaign is hosting the first Telework Week to promote the use of telecommuting. Proclaimed by Governor Sonny Perdue, Aug. 23-27 is Telework Week in Georgia with employers and employees being asked to embrace the options of working from home on occasion.
Shaw Industries has partnered with The Clean Air Campaign to help spread the benefits of telework which officials add extends far beyond reduced carbon emissions.
"We started this work from home, telecommuting, program probably around late 2007. We piloted it first in our [Information Services] group but it has since expanded to include some of our associates in legal, our talent acquisition group, a number of places in the company. I think we have between 150 to 170 folks in it right now and we started doing it just to help give our folks some flexibility, you know, better life/work balance. There are benefits to the company on productivity improvements we've seen, to the environment of saving gas and commuting times, so it's really just something that we found works all the way around for us," said Paul Richard, Shaw vice president of human resources.
A benefit expressed by Richard, often not automatically associated with working from home, is increased productivity. More employers are finding out about such advantages as Carr said that more than 350,000 employees in metro-Atlanta work, at least occasionally, remotely from home.
"Some folks like the fact that they can be in an environment where there aren't as many distractions and they can really focus on a project," Richard said. "It's a really individual thing. Some folks like more time in the office, some people work better the other way around. It really just depends on the individual and what their job is. But as far as the increased productivity, we've found that the best candidates for telecommuting are people that are already productive and already doing a good job. ... It very often makes them even better."
Carr mentioned specifically the irony in Atlanta's 2006 ranking from Forbes Magazine as the second "Most Wired" city in America yet more residents have not taken advantage of the technology in their work habits. Taking its place on the list for broadband access, wireless hot-spots and range of service providers, Atlanta still boasts an impressive commute time and traffic jams.
"One of the primary motivational factors in having this week would be to help to improve air quality in the region by not having as many cars on the road. I think that few people realize that half of all smog forming emissions come from the tail pipes of cars and the best commute is one that does not involve a tailpipe," Carr said. "We've already got almost 100 employers signed up showing their support of this. Some of those employers have existing programs, others have indicated an interest in finding out more about how they can start a program and so this is a really great event that is going to call a lot of attention to the better way to work."
Employers interested in implementing a work from home program can contact The Clean Air Campaign for consultation and advice. Corporate tax credits and employee rewards are available for qualifying programs. For more information visit www.cleanaircampaign.org or call 1-877-CLEANAIR .