7 Tips for Protecting Yourself Against Ozone



A bad smog day in Houston

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 DallasEarth Day Houston). Visit EarthDay.org to find events in your community. 

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Elena Craft

Elena Craft

Elena, an EDF health scientist, is an expert on air toxics issues who focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the energy and transportation sectors.

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Confusion around Ozone. Ozone is beneficial to health in the doses received in a high pollution day. Higher levels of ozone than caused by pollution will at some point damage lungs.

The reason for the confusion is that ozone is easy to measure and is a good indicator that all the other dangerous smog chemicals are being created by the chemical mix in the air interacting with sunlight. So, ozone is reported as "AN INDICATOR OF SMOG". Ozone itself in those doses has been found to be helpful. Go look it up.

Worthless recommendations. Here is an alternative:
1. If you live in a high smog area and are sensitive to air pollution or have COPD, asthma, any breathing disorder, low O2 sats, are already poisoning your body with cigarettes or smoke , FIRST CHOICE IS MOVE to a cleaner place better for your health and take it seriously.
2. If you do NOT have the means to move or are stuck in an area, you can insulate, weather strip your house during high smog season (it will increase indoor pollution however).
3. If your lungs ache or dry out, use a humidifier at night with distilled water in it.
4. Go to a doc and get meds to help if you have any significant breathing problems from ozone pollution.
5. exercise indoors when smog levels are bad.

I agree. MOVE. We are trying to because my son is sensitive to all the stuff they shoot into the air in New Orleans. Ready to just leave it all behind and go.

I'm not a doctor (and towing the party line), but actual ozone (O3) is harmless and even has health benefits.

CO and other metallic airborne compounds are unhealthy.
(see "chem-trails" :P )

Wait!! I thought we were supposed to worry about a LACK of Ozone protection!!

Thank you for your comment. Ozone is a molecule comprised of three oxygen atoms, and can be either helpful in protecting the earth from harmful solar radiation when it is in the upper atmosphere, or harmful to human and ecological health if it is at ground level. EPA sets national ambient air quality standards for ground level ozone only in order to protect human and ecosystem health. See EPA's report: Ozone - Good Up High Bad Nearby for more information.