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Ground Level Ozone is Up in Springfield as Heat Continues

Ozone is normally a good thing.  Where it occurs naturally in Earth’s upper atmosphere, it provides a protective layer against the sun’s harmful rays.  But when it forms at ground level, it’s not a good thing.

The Air Quality Index for the Springfield area through Sunday is at the orange level.  Barbara Lucks, interim sustainability officer for the city of Springfield, says that means people with lung disease--including asthma, children and older adults and people who are active outdoors should limit prolonged outdoor exertion…

"Ground level ozone affects the lung's capacity or the ability of the lungs to actually function, if you have anything like asthma or an already existing lung condition it aggravates that.  It can also, in infants and young people, it can reduce the child's lung's capacity for the rest of their lives and then in older folks it also reduces that capacity as they get older."

The orange level is next to red, which means the air quality is unhealthy.  Lucks says ground level ozone is elevated now due to what she calls “a perfect storm…”

"We have the higher temperatures, low winds so that the air is allowed to kind of sit and the ozone is allowed to kind of accumulate and lots of sunshine.  When you combine those with the pollutants that cause ground level ozone, then it's just not moving.  It's just sitting here."

Electronic signs have been placed around the city telling motorists the alert level and encouraging them to carpool or use mass transit.  That’s a project of the city of Springfield, MODOT, the Clean Air Alliance and the Ozarks Transportation Organization.

Lucks says, in Springfield, the primary source of ground level ozone is gas-powered engines, including those in automobiles and lawn mowers…

"We're encouraging people to take steps to carpool or there's a practice called trip chaining, which means that you combine your errands so that you're not criss-crossing across town needlessly.  All of those things--anything that you can do to lessen the use of the automobile."

She also encourages you to keep your vehicles and lawnmowers tuned properly.

Besides the health aspects, Lucks says there’s a big reason you should care about ground level ozone.  She says if Springfield’s levels continue to be high on an ongoing basis, we become an area that’s not meeting the standard and we’re declared “not in attainment” of those standards, and that can lead to negative economic effects…

"Because, when you're declared an area of nonattainment, you're required to get back into attainment and it can be quite onerous and it can actually affect the type of businesses that  you can attract to a community.  Certainly, individual practices can be also affected."

Lucks says air quality is the next environmental challenge the city is facing and officials are doing everything they can to protect the health of the community and the environment.

To find out more about ground level ozone and the air quality index, visit www.airnow.gov.

For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.