Summer heat arrived in earnest his week, and with it comes bad air. Above-normal temperatures are expected, and experts predict a brutal three months of ozone along the Wasatch Front.
Ozone — three oxygen atoms in a single molecule — is a powerful anti-oxidant that damages lungs. Recent research has shown that even low levels cause respiratory problems. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency has lowered the acceptable level for ozone.
We weren’t staying under the old standard consistently, and now under the new standard we could see more unhealthful days than ever this summer.
Ozone is mainly a summer problem. Producing it requires the right combination of heat, sunlight and pollutants. Like wintertime particulates, it accumulates in our soup-bowl valleys when the air stagnates. But, unlike the winter inversions, ozone levels decline overnight when the sunlight goes away.
That means early mornings — particularly before the roads fill with morning commuters — are the peak time for outdoor breathing. In fact, early morning ozone levels can be a quarter of the afternoon highs. That is well below the unhealthful standard.
The diurnal ozone cycle is telling us to get up and get going. Whether exerting for work, health or pleasure, the earlier the better.
That’s common sense anyway because of the heat, but it becomes more crucial in an ozone factory. To the extent that our schedules — including work schedules — can shift earlier, they should.
That even extends to scheduling ozone-producing activities. One of the more pernicious sources of ozone precursers are gas stations. The fumes from filling cars are less harmful at 8 a.m. than they are at 5 p.m. Fill up before work, not after. And if mow your lawn with a gas mower, do it as early as your neighbors will allow the noise.
We can’t completely dodge the ozone problem by getting up with the roosters. We still need Tier III fuels, more electric vehicles and better mass transit to avoid violating federal clean air standards.
Air quality is arguably the biggest negative factor to life in Utah. We have to address it for our economic health, too.
But those improvements are years away. Until then, timing is everything.