With warmer weather, the potential for high ground-level ozone and particle pollutants rise with the temperature. Today also begins the state burn ban and air quality monitoring to combat the effects of heavy smog.
To coincide with these events, the Clean Air Campaign is celebrating Clean Air Awareness Week.
"Essentially, with the onset of warmer weather around the region, this is the period of time that ground-level ozone is likeliest to form. We have several things -- from stagnant weather, to warmer temperatures, a lack of rainfall -- that makes this sort of the unofficial kick off of smog season around the region," said Clean Air Campaign Director of Communication Brian Carr. "So it's important to make the community at-large aware of what they can do to reduce their exposure to the problem and to reduce their contribution to the problem."
In addition to environmental concerns, health issues arise on days labeled as "unhealthy" by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources air quality forecasts. Asthma and other respiratory disorders can become inflamed due to high ground-level ozone and children and the elderly may be adversely affected on those days as well.
To monitor air quality forecasts for metro Atlanta, sign up for "smog alerts" at www.cleanaircampaign.org. Although the Clean Air Campaign aims to spread awareness of health issues and monitoring practices, they also will this week promote changes that can be made to prevent ground-level ozone.
"In metro Atlanta, more than 50 percent of smog-forming emissions are coming from the tailpipes of cars and trucks. So it's a very simple equation for us, it's about reducing or eliminating the number of tailpipes that are out there on the roads and the most predictable way to do that starts with the daily commute," Carr said.
For Cynthia Grizzell, of Adairsville, her commute alternative turned out to be a vanpool coordinated by her employer. Working in Marietta, Grizzell began commuting with others more than a year ago using an automatic withdrawal system from employee paychecks to share transportation costs.
Grizzell is now commuting with employees working four, 10-hour days and has had to alter her own work schedule. The hours are long but she feels the savings are worth the sacrifice of leaving every morning before sunrise.
"It's great, the hours are a little long but it is good for me. It has saved me a ton of money in gas and wear and tear on my vehicle. It's real convenient for me," Grizzell said. "It does make for some long days but it is well worth it when I think about how much money I would have to spend."
Although a large number of Bartow County residents work outside of the county, even those without a long commute have found ways to alter their routine.
Donnie Elrod works in Cartersville at USG and travels the seven miles between work and home on bike. He began last year, while living about two miles away, to help get in shape. Now as the weather warms and days become longer, he will start pedaling to work again for the first time since his move.
After getting introduced to cycling for fitness, Elrod has found he enjoys the commute and appreciates the impact it has on the environment. He describes how the decision to change his commute blends well with the sustainability efforts put forth by his employer.
"Everybody wants to do something to change the world and I guess that was one of my things. We're always looking to better the environment," Elrod said. "At USG, we have a community garden with Green Highlands of Georgia Highlands [College], we just ordered a 2,500 gallon rain harvesting tank -- we just try to do things to make an impact."
After he began biking, Elrod learned about the Clean Air Campaign's Cash for Commuters program in which commuters can be paid for the miles they drive using an alternative commuting method. With Cash for Commuters, those participating can earn $3 a day for each day they use a "clean" commute, up to $100, during a 90-day assigned period.
"Every week, you just log in your miles and you get paid based on how many miles," Elrod said. "Even after that 90 days is up, if you continue to log your miles you still get chances to win gift cards and what not -- but in the end, really it saves money on gas."
Grizzell too has found a benefit from her commute alternative beyond that of financial savings. The reduction in tailpipe emissions is something she feels proud to play a role in.
"It does mean a lot to me. I see what we're doing to our planet. Some of it, we sort of can't help it, but a lot of it, if we made more of an effort, we could do better at being better stewards of what we have and this is something that I can do that benefits me immediately because it benefits me financially but it also benefits the planet," Grizzell said.
For more information on Clean Air Awareness Week or on commuter rewards, call 1-877-253-2624 or visit www.cleanaircampaign.org.