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With Summer Approaching, EPA Warns Public on Protections Against Smog

Release Date: 05/22/2000
Contact Information: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office (617-918-1042)

The onset of warm weather means New Englanders should be aware of the increased risk of ground-level ozone (smog) pollution and take health precautions when ozone levels are high, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today.

Poor air quality affects everyone, but some groups are particularly sensitive to ozone, including children and adults who are active outdoors, and people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma.

Children are especially vulnerable to smog because they breathe more air per pound of body weight than do adults. In addition, their respiratory systems are still developing, making them more susceptible to environmental threats, and they are active outdoors in summer, when ozone levels are highest. Children also are more likely to have asthma, which although not caused by ozone may be aggravated by ozone exposure.

"Ground-level ozone smog is one of the Northeast's biggest public health threats, affecting literally millions of New Englanders," said Mindy S. Lubber, EPA's New England Administrator. "We are particularly concerned about children with asthma. In the last 10 years, the incidence of asthma has doubled, especially among minority populations in urban areas."

Ground-level ozone 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 generates 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 exceed 0.08 parts per million over an eight-hour period. Already this year, there have been four days with unhealthy air quality reported in New England. The early heat of May 6 to 9 brought New Englanders their first days of unhealthy air quality this season. Unhealthy ozone concentrations were recorded in Connecticut on May 6, 7, and 9, and in Rhode Island on May 8 and 9.

The federal Clean Air Act has led to significant improvements in air quality over the past 20 years. Last summer, New England had 35 unhealthy days, compared to 90 unhealthy days in 1983.

"Although we've made great strides in reducing smog, New Englanders will inevitably see unhealthy ozone days this summer," Lubber said. "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."

Further air quality improvements also are expected from the tightened motor vehicle inspection and maintenance programs put in place since last summer in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In addition, EPA recently issued tougher tailpipe emission standards for cars and light-duty trucks, including sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and limits on the amount of sulfur in gasoline.

EPA also has taken aggressive steps to reduce pollution from power plants upwind of New England. In March of this year, a federal court upheld EPA rules requiring a reduction of approximately 900,000 tons of smog forming pollution in 19 states in the eastern United States.

Throughout the summer, whenever ground-level ozone concentrations 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, citizens and businesses take special care to help reduce air pollution and protect the public 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, go in car pools and combine trips;
    • go to the gas station at night to cut down on gasoline vapors getting into the air during daylight hours when the sun can cook the vapors and form ozone;
    • use less electricity - turn air conditioning to a higher temperature setting, turn out lights and computer screens when you're not using them;
    • avoid using gasoline-powered engines, such as lawn mowers, chain saws and 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 New England in cooperation with the New England states, that automatically notifies participants by e-mail or fax when high concentrations of ground-level ozone are predicted in their 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.