Reporting that half of Bartow County's smog emissions stem from tailpipes, Brian Carr -- director of communications for The Clean Air Campaign -- encourages residents to proactively protect themselves from exposure while reducing their contribution to this pollution problem. As of Saturday, he said the metro-Atlanta area, which includes Bartow, has experienced 10 days of Code Orange observations since the beginning of May.
Today's forecast also was deemed Code Orange, meaning the air quality index falls within 101 to 150, compared to the "good" or Code Green range of 0 to 50. In conjunction with the alert, The Clean Air Campaign advises senior adults and children, along with people with heart or lung disease or asthma, to reduce or avoid strenuous outdoor activities.
Comparing it to the ozone layer in the Earth's stratosphere, which helps block ultraviolet radiation from reaching the planet's surface, Carr said that same molecular compound is harmful to breathe at ground level.
"Basically when you are exposed to it for long periods of time -- the longer you're out there mowing your lawn or riding a bicycle next to a highway, for example, or playing outdoors on a playground -- your heart rate is likely to be more elevated and you'll be breathing in more air and with that you'll be breathing in more ground-level ozone," Carr said. "So what it can do is it can inflame your airways. It can inflame the tissue in your lungs and almost feel like a sunburn on the inside of your lungs when you're breathing it in. It can also exacerbate problems that people have with asthma attacks. It can create shortness of breath, and there are a lot of studies that have been put out that show a high correlation between the number of ER visits that are happening for symptoms related to air quality problems and the incidences of smog alerts being issued. So more people head to the hospital on those days.
"For ground-level ozone to form, it's actually not directly emitted from anything. But it's actually formed from a combination of heat and sunlight mixing together -- vapors that come from things like gasoline and exhaust emissions that come from combustion engine vehicles, power plants. Even vegetation can emit some of that pollution. So it all cooks together in the presence of heat and sunlight to form ground-level ozone. So conversely in the absence of heat or sunlight, for example if we had some rain come through town or if we had some wind to kind of disperse it or some cooler temperatures, that would help to break it apart."
While metro Atlanta's air quality presently is not ideal, Carr said they are seeing improvements when compared to past years' pollution records.
"This year, [smog season] appears to have had a little bit of a later start, giving us more of a series of Code Orange days. Actually we've had about five in the past 10 days alone," Carr said. "Over the Memorial Day holiday it really seemed to pick up the pace. I would also say that for last year it appears that the region experienced more than 20 days in which ground-level ozone was at a concentration deemed unhealthy for sensitive groups. And there's really no telling where we will go this season [or] this summer, because it's all related to so many factors that can all have a prominent role in this, whether it be the temperature outside or the amount of cars out on the road. It's really hard to predict in the future where things will go next. So far in 2011, we have not had any Code Red. We experienced one Code Red last year and it happened in the middle of July.
"But the great news is that air quality in the region is actually improving. Five and 10 years ago we used to have in the dozens of Code Red days and now that's really been significantly reduced. I think it's a combination of factors. One would be the regulatory side of things -- more controls over emissions produced by vehicles or power plants. So on the regulatory side that plays an important role. Also technology -- the fuel we burn is cleaner in our vehicles and our vehicles can get more miles to the gallon [than] we could even a decade ago. So that plays a role in that too. And then lastly it's the efforts of employers and commuters, including those in Bartow, that have taken up the mantel of finding alternatives to driving alone so that they can reduce the amount of pollution out there," he said, referring to options like carpooling, riding transit, teleworking or participating in a compressed work week.
Echoing Carr's comments, Keep Bartow Beautiful Assistant Director Missy Phillips encourages residents to, when possible, alter their behavior to improve air quality. Ranging from motorists not idling their vehicles to homeowners using electrical lawnmowers, she said actions like this "could really make a dent" in lowering ground-level ozone.
While carpooling often can be difficult, she believes teleworking is continuing to increase.
"We certainly have the computer technology to be able to do most of our jobs from home, at least one day a week if not four days a week, then coming to the office once possibly if you have to see people," Phillips said, adding some of the Bartow County Environmental Management System's future goals are to establish a carpool lot and electric car charging stations. "The computer age has definitely changed the future landscape I think of probably any business, in that for a lot of businesses it's going to be kind of a win-win in a way because they won't have to actually pay for office space as much.
"They won't have to pay for the energy to cool and heat. So their overhead in the future [I believe] is going to be quite low, much lower. I would think [this will grow in popularity] because it would be economically feasible. ... Accounting firms and those kinds of businesses or just businesses who contract out some of their office work, [their work] will be done from satellite offices that most likely would be in people's homes."
To register for smog alerts via e-mail or to find more information about carpooling, visit The Clean Air Campaign's website, www.cleanaircampaign.org.