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Release Date: 05/24/1999
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office (617-918-1008)

BOSTON - With hot weather fast approaching and as part of Air Quality Awareness Week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that New Englanders should be aware of the increased risk of ground-level ozone (smog) pollution and the need to take precautions when ozone levels are unhealthy.

"Ground-level ozone smog is one of the Northeast's biggest public health threats, affecting literally millions of New Englanders," said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England Administrator. "Although we've made great strides combating smog, New Englanders will inevitably see unhealthy ozone days this summer. And when those days occur, EPA and the medical community strongly recommend that residents refrain from strenuous outdoor activity, especially sensitive populations such as children and adults with respiratory problems."

Ground-level ozone (smog) is formed when volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen interact in the presence of sunlight. Cars, trucks and buses are the primary source of the pollutants that make smog. Fossil fuel burning at electric power plants, particularly on hot days, also generate smog-making pollution. Gas stations, print shops, household products like paints and cleaners, as well as lawn and garden equipment, also contribute to smog formation.

Ground-level ozone, the main ingredient of smog, is unhealthy when average concentrations go above 0.08 parts per million over an eight-hour period. Ground-level ozone irritates your nose, throat and lungs and it can also damage lung tissue and make it harder to breathe. Additionally, it causes coughing, headaches, nausea, and may cause premature aging (scarring) of the lung.

Poor air quality impacts everyone, but some people are particularly affected, including children who are active outdoors, outdoor workers, and people with respiratory diseases such as asthma.

The federal Clean Air Act has led to significant improvements in air quality over the past 20 years. Last summer, New England had 28 unhealthy days, compared to 90 unhealthy days in 1983.

And further air quality improvements are expected as more New England states implement enhanced motor vehicle inspection and maintenance programs and other measures. In addition, since May 1 of this year, New England states (except Maine and Vermont) are requiring electric generators and other industrial sources to reduce summertime nitrogen oxide emissions - a direct contributor to ozone - by 65 percent from 1990 levels through a regional emissions cap and trade program.

Additionally, EPA recently proposed new standards for cleaner cars and cleaner gasoline. Specifically, EPA proposed tougher tailpipe emission standards for cars and light-duty trucks, including sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and limits on the amount of sulfur in gasoline.

Throughout the summer, whenever ground-level ozone levels are predicted to exceed the national health standard in areas in New England, EPA and the states will announce that the following day will be an Ozone Action Day in these areas. EPA asks that on Ozone Action Days, private and corporate citizens take special care to help reduce air pollution and protect their health.

You or your employer can help get rid of ozone-smog by taking the following actions:

    • use public transportation, bike or walk whenever possible;
    • if you must drive, car pool and combine trips;
    • go to the gas station at night to cut down on gasoline vapors getting into the air during day light hours when the sun can cook the vapors and form ozone;
    • use less electricity - turn air conditioning to a higher temperature, turn out lights and computer screens when you're not using them;
    • avoid using gasoline powered engines, such as lawn mowers, chain saws, leaf blowers on unhealthy air days.
In order to help Northeast residents prepare for poor air quality this summer, EPA maintains a ground-level ozone mapping system, which shows real-time images and daily forecasts of ground-level ozone levels. The daily ozone forecast is available on the EPA's World Wide Web air pollution information page at

Citizens can also sign up at this web address, or call EPA's Air Quality Hotline at 1-800-821-1237, to receive smog alerts. Smog Alert is a free service, provided by EPA in conjunction with the New England states, which automatically notifies you by e-mail or fax when high concentrations of ground-level ozone are predicted in your area. Smog Alerts are issued to notify interested persons of predicted poor air quality in specific geographical areas of New England throughout the summer smog season, May through September.