Ozone and Air Quality
Air quality has become an important and pressing issue once again in the MAPA Region. With the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) poised to reconsider and impose stricter national air quality standards related to ozone in the next two years, there is a good chance that the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area could lose its clean air status and enter “non-attainment” of national air quality standards. This would have a number of ramifications, including more paperwork and reporting for businesses, more numerous environmental regulation of industrial activity, and reduced freedom of choice in public infrastructure investments, especially in transportation.Air quality standards are not set in a vacuum. The law mandates the EPA to only take into account the health impacts of poor air quality at various levels in setting standards for various types of pollutants. In the last decade, clinical research has definitively proven that ozone is harmful to human health at lower concentrations in the atmosphere than previously thought, across both the general population and those already afflicted with chronic respiratory diseases. Regardless of where the EPA sets the air quality standard, we regularly experience levels of ozone that harm the health of our fellow citizens.
Ozone is formed through a chemical reaction between two main classes of gaseous emissions – oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds. These are produced through all sorts of processes and applications, from heavy industry to painting to the operation of your car and lawn mower. Emissions concentrate in the lower atmosphere, where exposure to heat and sunlight cause the formation of ozone. Summer is thus the worst time of year for ozone pollution, as the conditions are present to catalyze its formation.
WHAT WE ARE DOING
MAPA has partnered with local governments, companies, and organizations to tackle the issue at several levels, including investing in new technologies, working with specific industries and sectors to develop emissions reduction strategies, and offering services such as MetrO! Rideshare. This partnership also launched the Little Steps, Big Impact campaign, an ongoing public awareness and action effort.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
EPA Ground Level Ozone resource center - further background on science, policy, and guides for action
AirNow.gov - national air quality alerts and a full compendium of resources on reducing ozone pollution