Image by rkimpeljr/Flickr
Biking is a great way to get to work if, like me, you don’t live far from your office. My normal route takes me along Lady Bird Lake and then through downtown Austin, TX. I love riding by the lake (which is really part of the Lower Colorado River), watching the birds glide over the water in the mornings. It’s a perfect way to start the day.
But then I leave the sanctuary of the lake and find myself catapulted from nature into the fossil fuel frenzy that is rush hour in most cities.
As I sit at a traffic light, inhaling gasoline emissions from the cars surrounding me, I am more than grateful for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards (Tier 3), which will reduce the amount of sulfur in U.S. gasoline and establish stronger tailpipe emission limits on new passenger vehicles.
EDF fought hard for the new standards, which will cost less than one penny per gallon and have broad support from automakers, the emissions control industry, as well as health and environmental groups.
The Tier3 standards will go a long way toward reducing ground level ozone, or smog, but won’t fully take effect until model year 2017. Until then, warm weather and smog will still go hand in hand. In Texas, the official ozone season has already started. And this is bad news for human health.
We now know that smog is linked to premature mortality, increased hospital admissions, and emergency room visits for children and adults with pre-existing respiratory disease such as asthma, as well as possible long-term lung damage. Children and the elderly with existing respiratory conditions are most at risk from smog.
What You Can Do
As ozone season heats up, protect your health by staying on top of weather reports reporting ozone levels and follow these seven tips:
1. There's an app for that! In Houston, visit the “Houston Clean Air Network” website developed by Air Alliance Houston to see real-time, regional ozone levels.
2. Get in the habit. Make it a routine to look at the air quality index (AQI) before you plan your activities for the day. Understand what the colors on the AQI mean when you hear them on the news and restrict outdoor activities accordingly: orange (unhealthy for sensitive populations); red (unhealthy for the general population); and purple (very unhealthy for the general population).
3. Stay indoors. Avoid spending too much time outdoors on high-level ozone days.
4. Timing is everything. Gas up your vehicle in the early morning or late evening hours and mow your lawn later in the evening. If possible, use electric lawn equipment instead of those with gasoline engines.
5. Limit driving. Use public transit or carpool whenever possible. Better yet, get out that bike! If you must drive, be sure that your tires are properly inflated and that your car is tuned up.
6. Conserve energy. Much of our energy comes from fossil fuel-burning power plants that produce ozone.
7. Make every day Earth Day. Celebrate our planet at any of the earth day events planned around Texas this year (e.g., Earth Day Dallas, Earth Day Houston). Visit EarthDay.org to find events in your community.