Tag Archives: Little Steps Big Impact

Small Air Quality Steps Have Impact

The following article was originally published in the Midlands Voice section of the Omaha World-Herald Dec. 16, 2016.

Greg Youell, MAPA

The writer, Greg Youell, is executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA). 

Whether working, playing or exercising outside, the quality of the air we breathe impacts the quality of life for our families, businesses, health and even future economic development.

On Oct. 1, the Environmental Protection Agency issued new air quality standards and tightened the ozone standard. The updated standard requires metropolitan areas to have ground-level ozone of no more than 70 parts per billion (ppb), a reduction from the previous standard of 75 ppb.

Ozone is found at ground level and in the upper atmosphere. From six to 30 miles above the Earth, it protects us from the sun. But at the ground level, it is harmful to breathing and bad for trees and plants.

In the Omaha metro area, ozone forms most commonly on hot, sunny days with low wind during the warm months of the year.

Like many regulations, the stricter rule has both benefits and consequences. The benefits are more protection for individuals with respiratory problems and potential health care savings. The consequences for being out of compliance can range from economic challenges to mandatory vehicle inspections, more regulation on industry and major efforts to reduce commuter vehicle use.

The greater Omaha region currently is in clean air status with the EPA. This makes the metro area more competitive with areas that are in violation of air quality standards. The new, lower standard means even more metro areas will be in non-attainment.

This gives us a leg up in recruiting new employers who won’t face the red tape here that they do in regions with air quality problems. However, that doesn’t mean we can pat ourselves on the back and walk away.

According to local air quality monitors, the Omaha metro area’s current ozone value is 67 ppb, only a few points away from the new standard of 70 ppb. That’s too close for comfort.

Vehicle emissions are one of the leading creators of ground-level ozone. While giving up a car is not a feasible option for most of us, there are actions you can take that will make a big difference.

If you drive to work and errands, you can carpool and combine several errands into fewer trips. Metro Rideshare is a local program that pairs people who wish to share their commute with another person instead of driving by themselves every day.

Choose cleaner-burning fuels such as ethanol, particularly E85 and biodiesel, when filling up at the pump. Wait until later in the evening to refuel and stop at the click when the pump shuts off automatically. Keep your vehicle in good running order.

You can avoid the traffic crunch altogether by leaving your vehicle at a Park ‘n’ Ride lot and riding on a Metro bus or riding your bicycle. Check with your employer to see if bus or shared-ride benefits are available.

There are other little steps you can take as well. Avoid mowing on ozone alert days or choose electric or manual lawn equipment. Even small engines in gas-powered mowers, leaf blowers and trimmers release as much a 25 percent unburned gasoline into the air. Keep lids tightly on paints and solvents.

By considering the consequences and taking small steps, together we will make a big Little-Steps-Big-Impact-Logo_Smdifference in air quality. This means having a real impact on adult and child respiratory issues, which can reduce health costs.

Consider these facts: Reducing 1,000 vehicles per day on the metropolitan area’s streets and highways would eliminate 255 pounds of carbon monoxide, 35 pounds of volatile organic compounds and 5.7 tons of carbon dioxide. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

As stewards of our quality of life, we each need to do what we can to help. Through the Heartland 2050 process, the Omaha region is planning ahead.

Reducing ozone and improving air quality is also important to being an active, healthy and clean metropolitan area. By each one of us taking a little step, together we can make a big impact.

Omaha-Council Bluffs Region Meets New Ozone Standard

The following article came from the Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan Planning Agency Oct. 1, 2015.

Omaha, NE-Oct. 1, 2015 – The Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area meets the new ground-level ozone standard released today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA announced this afternoon that it strengthened the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion (ppb) from 75 ppb to protect public health. The Douglas County Health Department monitors ground-level ozone for the region and reports the area is in compliance with the new standard.

In recent years, ozone levels in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area have ranged in the upper 60s, though it does rise into the 70s range at times. The Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) coordinates “Little Steps. Big Impact,” an ozone education and awareness program aimed at helping mitigate the ozone problem in the metro area.

“The new national air quality standard for ozone means it is all the more important that the metro area continues to work to retain its clean air status both for the competitive advantage it provides and for the health of residents,” said Greg Youell, MAPA Executive Director.

Some of the “Little steps” citizens are asked to do to help reduce ground-level ozone include:
1. Driving less by biking, walking, taking public transit, and carpooling
2. Refueling at dusk or nighttime to avoid greater loss of fuel through evaporation
3. Choosing cleaner-burning fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel
4. Not idling a vehicle for more than 30 seconds
5. Capping all paints, solvents, and cleaners
6. Using electric or manual lawn equipment when possible, or using it during cooler hours of the day

Elevated ozone concentrations could pose a risk to the health of those with chronic respiratory problems, such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis, and could carry greater regulatory consequences for the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area if it does not meet federal air quality standards.

Ground-level ozone is formed when several common airborne pollutants, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), react with sunlight and heat. Vehicle exhaust and petroleum evaporative loss are the largest source of these pollutants. For more information, visit littlestepsbigimpact.com or www.douglascountyhealth.com.