There’s no doubt that air quality is a serious, ongoing problem, but Air North Texas is out to help area residents breathe a little easier by helping to improve the region’s air quality. Formed by the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) with support of the Air Quality Public Relations Task Force, Air North Texas is a regional air quality public awareness campaign aimed at helping communities understand the importance of health and environmental issues associated with high ozone levels. It is driven by regional partners comprising local, city, government and nonprofit entities, as well as health, education and environmental groups with diverse backgrounds and expertise from across North Texas.
According to Pamela Burns, communications coordinator for NCTCOG, Air North Texas was formed to give people a sense of ownership; a sense that they could make a positive impact on overall air quality by making clean air choices. “Back then, people were getting a lot of different messages from local governments and transit agencies,” she says. “It just made sense to get together and create one cohesive regional voice so that 6.5 million residents were hearing the same information.”
The cumulative effect of those same residents making clean air choices, like reducing emissions, can not only help improve air quality, but protect public health and welfare, improve quality of life and even preserve economic vitality in the region. How is this done? It’s actually pretty simple, according to Jenny Danieau, a senior transportation planner for Air Quality Policy/Program Development. She says the air quality problem is centered on ozone, which forms when nitrogen oxides and/or volatile organic compounds combine under sunlight and intense heat. Emission sources include vehicles, power plants, forest fires, oil and gas drilling operations and even dry cleaners, paint shops and bakeries. If individuals, local governments and businesses can make a commitment to reduce emissions, it could make a profound impact.
“High ozone concentrations affect everybody, but is especially dangerous for children, the elderly and those people with respiratory problems,” notes Danieau. Ozone exposure can make it more difficult to breathe deeply, causing shortness of breath and pain, coughing and a sore or scratchy throat. Breathing ozone-polluted air also aggravates lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
With all we know about the causes of ozone, it’s no wonder that summertime is considered the peak of ozone season, when the air quality is typically at its worst. This ozone season, Air North Texas is encouraging individuals, local governments and businesses to Be Air Aware, and is holding the third annual Clean Air Action Day on July 7, which is the date designated each year for the event.
Communications Specialist Whitney Vandiver says participation is easy. “We are encouraging residents to make a pledge to execute at least one clean air action anytime between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on that day,” she says. Examples include carpooling, using mass transit, bicycling or walking; conserving electricity by turning off lights or using less water; maintaining a consistent driving speed; and combining errands.
The hope, notes Vandiver, is that these same participants will extend their commitment to foster long-term behavioral change. Employers, for instance, can offer a compressed workweek or flexible scheduling and instead of in-person meetings, hold teleconferences. “Progressive businesses can really set an example for others and make quite an impact,” she says.
North Texans are also encouraged to sign up to receive Air Pollution Watch and Warning alerts to know when the region’s air quality will be unhealthy. An Air Pollution Watch is issued for a day predicted to be a public health risk, or when we are likely to have bad air pollution. If air pollution levels actually reach unhealthy levels, based on monitor readings, an Air Pollution Warning will be issued.
According to Burns, the warnings and watches will also be posted on Facebook and Twitter, and will appear on local news stations. Individuals that sign up will receive the alerts via email.
The innovative and collaborative efforts of Air North Texas partners attracted the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In May 2009, Air North Texas received a Clean Air Excellence award from the EPA. Established in 2000, these annual awards honor innovative efforts to improve air quality.
“Without a doubt, we are making strides to make the air quality in our region significantly better,” states Danieau.
To sign up for Air Pollution Watches and Warnings, visit AirNorthTexas.org. For more information about Clean Air Action Day, call 817-704-5639 or visit AirNorthTexas.org/7777.asp.