With daily high temperatures reaching into the 90s, recent air quality in the metro-Atlanta area has remained within notable margins. Six days since the beginning of May have been recorded to exceed federal and state limits of ozone and particle pollution according to The Clean Air Campaign, a nonprofit organization that reports air quality findings of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and promotes ways to reduce smog forming emissions.
"It's not uncommon to have multiple days [of alert] in a row. Really what we're seeing right now is that there are some just unbelievable hot days where the air is incredibly stagnant right now. So it is truly the dog days of summer," said Brian Carr, director of communication for The Clean Air Campaign.
Director of the Bartow County Environmental Management System Sherri Henshaw explained how heat plays an integral role in the formation of smog and dangerous pollutants.
"The heat being so extreme is trapping some of the particulate matter in the air because that is part of what causes that [pollution] and with the extreme heat we've had we're going to have more problems with it instead of less," Henshaw said. "We're going to see more of that this summer and unfortunately that's going to continue."
Today's heightened forecast is predicted to leave those of sensitive populations at risk for exposure to unhealthy levels of pollution. Sensitive groups include the elderly, children and those with lung diseases or other conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and anemia.
The air quality index uses ground level ozone and particle pollution to measure risk factors based on a zero to 300 scale. Good and moderate levels range from a score of zero to 100 followed by Code Orange from 101 to 150. The forecast for today was for it to reach 101, just within the level orange warning. Smog levels do not become dangerous for the general public until a score of 151, but beyond that, extended amounts of exposure can cause serious health problems.
"Inhaling and having long-term exposure to ground level ozone can do quite a few things to your respiratory system. It can enflame the tissues of your lungs, it can aggravate asthma and bronchitis, it can cause lead to respiratory distress that could ultimately lead to someone having to go into the emergency room," Carr said.
With the sprawling nature of the city of Atlanta and its metro area, it is a common practice to live in one county and work in another, adding to the dangers of smog and air pollution. The Clean Air Campaign promotes carpooling and public transportation when at all possible but especially on days with a smog alert forecast. Alluding to the need of other countries such as China, resulting in the regulation who can drive and when, Carr said voluntary actions are needed to make a difference in Atlanta.
"The strength of regulatory actions can carry you so far and then the voluntary actions have to become the next step," Carr said. "Here in Atlanta, almost half of all smog-forming emissions come from the tailpipes of cars. So as a choice, a voluntary action that anyone can take, is to not drive alone as often."
Even those who do not commute to Atlanta can still have an impact on regional air quality outlooks, Carr said. As opposed to some forms of pollution, there are no walls or boundary lines to limit the spread of potentially dangerous emissions.
"The air quality challenges that we're facing right now -- they don't know boundaries. Bad air doesn't stop at the county line, it goes all the way across," Carr said.
He added that 20 metro-Atlanta counties do not meet the requirements for ground level ozone and/or particle pollution for at least one day a year. Those counties are known as the non-attainment area and the list does include Bartow.
Carr and Henshaw both suggest that on days under smog alert, those in the sensitive group should minimize their time spent outdoors in the heat of the day and everyone should be on the lookout for a Code Red or Purple, at which time anyone could be susceptible to an overexposure to air pollutants.
To reduce individual impacts on air quality, Henshaw suggests some everyday solutions. "I would encourage people to drive as little as possible," she said, adding that carpooling or Bartow Transit are alternative choices as well as consolidating trips. "Try to do those common sense things to try to cut down on pollution. ... Every individual effort helps."
She also suggested waiting to refuel vehicles until after 6 p.m. or before the heat of the day. Daytime highs in the summer can trap fumes from fuels allowing them to remain within the ground level ozone and diminishing pollution.
For updated smog alerts and more information on The Clean Air Campaign, visit www.cleanaircampaign.org or call 1-877-CLEANAIR .