Homepage

Ozone pollution alerts may be the new normal for Tri-Cities. One starts Sunday

Car exhaust from vehicles like these on George Washington Way in Richland is one of the contributors to periodically high ozone levels in the Tri-Cities, which could trigger sanctions from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Car exhaust from vehicles like these on George Washington Way in Richland is one of the contributors to periodically high ozone levels in the Tri-Cities, which could trigger sanctions from the Environmental Protection Agency. Tri-City Herald

Sunday may not be the best day to mow your lawn.

If you were thinking of making a coffee run, take the time to go inside to order rather than idling in the drive-through.

And you might want to wait until this evening to gas up your car for the coming work week.

Taking extra precautions when unhealthy ozone levels are forecast for the Tri-Cities may be the new normal.

The Washington State Department of Ecology has its eye on a forecast for hot weather and a light breeze from the north that may increase ozone generation and trap it along the Horse Heaven Hills as it builds up Sunday through Monday and possibly Tuesday.

Smoke from wildfires also has been linked to spikes in Tri-City ozone levels.

Ozone in the Earth’s upper atmosphere is good, shielding people from harmful ultraviolet radiation.

But high levels near the ground are a health hazard. Ozone can aggravate asthma, inflame and scar lung tissue, and make people more susceptible to bronchitis and pneumonia.

Children, the elderly, people with lung disease and those who work hard or exercise outdoors are most at risk.

After finding unhealthy ozone levels in the Tri-Cities air in 2015 that were nearly as high as those downwind of Seattle, the Department of Ecology launched a study with support from the Benton Clean Air Agency.

This is what ozone and air pollution can do to you, according to the Washington Department of Ecology.

The study, finished this spring, showed the 2015 ozone levels were no fluke.

The average for 2015 through 2017 exceeded the federal regulatory limit for ozone, which could trigger sanctions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The sanctions likely would hit the local economy. They could make getting air quality permits more difficult for new or expanding businesses, or require them to invest in projects that would offset their contribution to the ozone problem.

Representatives of Tri-City-area government agencies, the Department of Ecology, the Benton Clean Air Agency and Ben Franklin Transit met Thursday to start hashing out a strategy.

The consensus was the community needs to be proactive, said Ranil Dhammapala, atmospheric scientist for Ecology’s Air Quality Program.

The expectation is that EPA should look favorably on the Tri-Cities if it is already taking steps to reduce ozone, he said.

Local agencies will move ahead with two working groups to develop strategies to promote reducing ozone. One will focus on transportation and the other on industry and growth.

Slitz_Yearend_14.JPG
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends waiting until evening to use gas-powered lawnmowers on days when ozone levels are expected to be high. Children, the elderly, people with lung disease and those who work hard or exercise outdoors are most at risk. File McClatchy

Ozone is created when nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds mix and then bake in sunlight on hot days.

In the Tri-Cities light breezes from the north carry pollutants in the air until they dam up against the Horse Heaven Hills, trapping the pollution and baking them in the heat to create ozone.

The chemicals that create ozone can come from the exhaust of motor vehicles and gasoline vapors. They also can come from industrial facilities.

0506_MALO_KFC_004.JPG
Avoid excess idling of cars, particularly on days where high ozone levels are expected, recommends the Environmental Protection Agency. File McClatchy

The Tri-Cities is technically out of compliance with federal regulations now, but it won’t be legally noncompliant until the EPA next reconsiders its designation for the area.

If EPA follows the schedule it historically uses, it will reconsider whether the Tri-Cities is in compliance with ozone levels in 2022.

Because federal standards are based on an average of the highest ozone days each year, reducing activities that can lead to ozone production on days when ozone levels are expected to be high can help the Tri-Cities’ standing with the EPA.

The EPA recommends avoiding excessive idling of cars, postponing car trips and deferring lawn work that uses gasoline-powered equipment until evening. Cars should be refueled in the evening when it is cooler because gasoline fumes escape when a car is filled.

More tips are posted at bit.ly/PreventOzone.

Annette Cary; 509-582-1533
  Comments