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KC escapes sunny, hot weekend without an Ozone Alert

This weekend — despite the heat and sunlight — we didn’t exceed the ozone standard. Today we have a guest post from our meteorology consulting team at Weather or Not, who provide the SkyCast during the ozone season, to explain why.

Sunshine, heat and southerly winds are typical triggers for high concentrations of ground level ozone. So why is it that Kansas Citians basked in the sunshine, felt the heat and southerly winds but didn’t see an Ozone Alert this weekend (June 11 and 12)?

Factors such as cloud cover, lower traffic on the weekends, rain potential and upwind pollution all played their part.

Cloud cover played a pivotal role in limiting local production of ozone. Sun is a key ingredient in the formation ozone, so when puffy cumulus clouds begin to build, ozone production either stalls or decreases. The hour of each day that the puffy cumulus clouds were building was the exact same hour that ozone monitors peaked. Since the EPA ozone standard is based on a running eight-hour average, the “fair weather” clouds helped to keep ozone levels from climbing too high.

Sunday’s scattered showers and thunderstorms also helped decrease ozone values. Thickly clouded, rainy afternoons are an environment that can stunt ozone production and keep levels within clean air limits.

Weekend traffic helped. Fewer cars on the road helped to minimize local ozone production Saturday and Sunday. During the weekdays, we have two peak travel periods (morning and evening) that can increase dirty air. On the weekend we don’t have rush hour traffic, which limits pollution levels that could lead to increased ozone production.

We got a little help from our friends. Our upwind pollution potential for the weekend originated from Dallas, Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Their ozone levels stayed at high green to low yellow values (Air Quality Index (AQI) values in the upper 40s to low 50s). Often when their levels are high for a few days, southerly winds will transport those high ozone concentrations into the Kansas City area. That didn’t happen this weekend.

While close monitoring of the Ozone Alert potential was necessary this weekend, Mother Nature did her part to keep ozone in check in Kansas City.

And you helped, too, if you limited driving and other emission-producing activities.

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Road trips and air tips: breathe easy on the open road

It’s the heart of summer and time to take a vacation. If you’re vacationing somewhere in the Midwest, you’re probably considering a family road trip. Piling into the car and cranking up the tunes can be great for your family, but bad driving can hurt your fuel economy which also hurts our air quality.

Here are some good driving habits to improve both fuel economy and air quality:

  • Drive friendly. Speeding lowers your gas mileage 5 percent in the city and 33 percent on the highway. Rapid acceleration and sudden braking also use more fuel. Driving the speed limit and anticipating stops will help you reduce the amount of money leaving your wallet and the pollutants coming from your vehicle.
  • Go cruising. On any extended trip, cruise control is your best friend. It gives your leg a rest from pressing on the pedal and keeps you from getting a speeding ticket. It can also save you money at the pump by improving your miles per gallon.
  • Dump the junk. The more weight your car has, the more gasoline is needed to move it. Before going on your trip, be sure to remove everything you won’t need. Every extra 100 pounds of stuff in your car reduces your gas mileage by up to 2 percent.
  • Keep baggage off the roof. Once you’re certain you’ve only packed the necessities, make sure it all fits inside the car. Putting luggage in a rooftop cargo rack can greatly reduce your fuel economy — by as much as 25 percent on the interstate.
  • Always service your vehicle.When your car isn’t operating at its best it costs you money. Filters, fluids and tire pressure are all quick maintenance checks that you can do on your own. If they aren’t in top shape, it could cost you around 4 percentof your total gas mileage each year.

Road trips provide a fun atmosphere for family bonding. With a little help from travelers, our air doesn’t have to suffer the consequences of bad driving habits. And when you fill up before you head out, don’t forget to stop at the click when filling up your gas tank!

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Fireworks on the Fourth


On the Fourth of July, families, friends and communities gather to celebrate our independence and the birth of our nation. Typically, fireworks play a central role in honoring the spirit of the holiday.

Fireworks are great for celebrating:  they’re loud, they’re bright and they’re all-around fun. However, they have a downside: they contribute to air pollution and can greatly impair air quality for quite some time after the colorful displays have ended. Smoke from fireworks poses a health risk — particularly for those with asthma — and traces of accelerants and heavy metals used to create colors can stay in the air and water for weeks.

Here are some fun and healthy ways to celebrate the Fourth:

  • Watch a community fireworks show. Many cities and counties host fireworks displays for everyone to enjoy. Grab some friends and food and enjoy a professional show for free, instead of adding to air pollution with your own fireworks. Besides, professionals get to use the BIG impressive fireworks! Check your local news station to find a display near you.
  • Buy fewer personal fireworks. You may not be willing to completely forego a family tradition, but cutting back on the amount of fireworks you use is very beneficial. Fewer fireworks equal fewer harmful particles distributed into the air we breathe. (Plus, it’s much safer!)
  • Host a block party and share a grill. Holidays are about celebrating together, and block parties are a fun way to catch up with neighbors and friends. Try using just one grill instead of several to reduce the amount of fine particles released into our air. Lighting the coals with a charcoal chimney helps, too.
  • Stroll over to the community parade. For many of us, the Independence Day parade is a highlight of the holiday. Everyone enjoys a good parade complete with small treats and prizes, and civic groups turn out to offer an exciting, visual way to celebrate local history. Try walking or biking to the parade route instead of driving — you’ll avoid traffic and parking hassles while you help reduce emissions.
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Keep kids safe this summer with air-friendly activities

It’s summertime and that means kids should be outside soaking up the sun. We want them to breathe easy while the living is easy, so here are a few activities that help improve air quality and some to try when it’s not as good:

AIR-FRIENDLY OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES

  • Ride a bike. Biking is practically a rite of passage for kids, and it doesn’t produce the same harmful emissions as driving. It’s also a fun way to travel and an excellent source of exercise. The Kansas City metro area has a number of great bike trails for you and your children to try.
  • Spend time at a summer camp with an environmental focus. Kansas City has a lot of camps that incorporate environmental stewardship within various areas of interests like science, performing arts and sports. Talk with counselors ahead of time to encourage them to check the SkyCast before outdoor activities.
  • Volunteer with an organization that helps the environment, like a sustainability group. For example, Bridging The Gap helps air quality by planting trees and restoring natural prairies in the Greater Kansas City region. Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community and it teaches your children responsibility and compassion.

INDOOR ACTIVITIES FOR OZONE ALERT DAYS

  • Discover the artist within by doing some arts and crafts. Your kids can draw, paint, sculpt or create hundreds of other projects all within the comfort of their own home when the air quality is poor. If you don’t want the mess at your house, Kansas City has several art studios where your children can go. Grab a play date and carpool there!

We want you and your children to enjoy your summer so be sure to always check the SkyCast before doing any outdoor activity.

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Breathe easy during outdoor summer activities

Summer is almost here and with it comes more fun in the sun. Outdoor activities are a great way to be active and stay healthy. However, the air you breathe could negatively impact your health when ozone levels are high, especially if you have asthma or other respiratory conditions. Here are a few ways you can protect yourself when you’re outdoors:

  • Always check the SkyCast before being outdoors for an extended period of time. It will tell you what the air quality is predicted to be each day. Sign up for alerts via email or text message, or follow MARC Air Quality on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Plan ahead when exercising outdoors. If the SkyCast calls for elevated ground-level ozone, consider an indoor activity. If you do choose to go out, do so during the cooler parts of the day — before 10 a.m. or after 7 p.m. Poor air quality typically occurs during the hottest part of the day, when conditions are right for ozone to form.
  • Limit vigorous outdoor activity during an ozone alert. The harder you exercise the more air you need. If ozone levels are high, you are consuming poor air at a rapid rate. Try walking instead of jogging or yoga instead of lifting weights.
  • Listen to your body. Regardless of whether air quality is good or poor, your body knows when it needs hydration or a break.
  • Buddy up with a partner or a group to watch one another for any health problems. Sometimes someone else will notice a problem before you feel it.

We want you to be safe when engaging in any physical activity. Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice and carry any necessary medication with you, such as an inhaler. And don’t forget to take small steps to help take care of our air!

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Welcome to Ozone Season 2015!

Stay informed and get involved during ozone season

Ozone season is here again! Each year between April 1 and Oct. 31, we keep a close eye on the concentration of ozone in our region’s air. Ozone pollution is formed when emissions from vehicles, industry, paint fumes and other sources react in heat and sunlight. Ozone is harmful for everyone — it can cause coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing — but is especially dangerous for children or people with breathing conditions such as asthma.

What should you do during ozone season?

Stay informed: know the SkyCast

Mechanic airing up tiresThe SkyCast is the daily air quality forecast for the region. The MARC Air Quality Program issues a new SkyCast every day about 3 p.m. You’ll see Ozone Alerts when weather conditions are expected to cause ozone concentrations to rise to excessive levels. There are many ways you can keep track of the SkyCast:

Get involved: share a ride using RideShare

Reduce the emissions from your car by driving alone less. Carpooling to work will cut your commute emissions by half or more. Find a match using RideShareKC. If you’re concerned that an emergency — such as a sick child or an accident at work — will make things difficult, check out the Guaranteed Ride Home program.

Special opportunity for Kansas City Corporate Challenge participants:

Reduce emissions while competing at KCCC events! Again this year, AirQ has partnered with Kansas City Corporate Challenge to hold a carpool challenge. The company logging the most carpool miles will be presented with the “KCCC Carpool Challenge Award” (along with a prize) at the 2015 KCCC Awards Celebration. Show the region how “green” your team can be. Learn more >>

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Celebrating Trees beyond Arbor Days

Photo of three teenagers watering newly planted trees

As petals from blooms speckle the pavement after spring showers, trees catch our eyes and our attention. But after the rich purples, deep reds and bright yellows have disappeared from our daily surroundings, will we continue to notice our trees, and think of all that they do for us? In both urban and rural areas, trees contribute significantly to human health and environmental quality by providing various ecosystem services (i.e., the conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems, and the species that make them up, sustain and fulfill human life).

National Arbor Day is observed on the last Friday in April. The state of Kansas will observe the holiday on April 24, 2015, while Missouri’s Arbor Day is April 3.

Local events

April 4 — Annual Sapling Giveaway at Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens,
Overland Park, Kansas

April 18 — KC Parks Arbor Day event at Loose Park, 5200 Wornall, Kansas City, Missouri

April 24 —Arbor Day Celebration at Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens,
Overland Park, Kansas

April 24 — Arbor Day Celebration at Overland Park City Hall, 8500 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park, Kansas

April 25 — Earth Day/Arbor Day Celebration Gardner Greenway Corridor – Madison Street, Gardner, Kansas

 

The Missouri Department of Conservation encourages residents to plant native trees. (See the tree selection and planting guide on the Missouri Department of Conservation website.) A state proclamation notes that trees are an integral part of Missouri’s quality of life:

  • Forests cover nearly one-third of the state.
  • Forests provide outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat, natural beauty, and watersheds for streams and rivers.
  • Forests provide employment for more than 33,000 people who convert trees into essential products.
  • Forests contribute beauty and shade to urban, suburban and rural areas while creating a more pleasant and healthful environment.
  • Missouri will continue to benefit from its forests for succeeding generations through tree planting and conservation.

 

“Assessing Urban Forest Effects and Values: the Greater Kansas City Region,” published by the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, lists a variety of ways that the MARC region benefits from its forests, including:

  • Water Quality: Tree coverage helps reduce total suspended solids found in streamways by natural filtration and reduces the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by sequestering carbon in new growth every year.
  • Air Quality: The urban forest improves air quality by reducing air temperature, directly removing air pollutants and reducing energy consumption in buildings (meaning less emissions generated from power sources.)
  • Stormwater Management: Increasing tree cover reduces stormwater drainage from both pervious and impervious areas.
  • Energy Conservation: Trees help conserve energy by shading buildings, providing evaporative cooling and blocking winter winds.
  • Carbon Removal/Storage: Trees in the Kansas City metro remove about 1 million tons of carbon per year (valued at $20.7 million) in addition to storing 19.9 million tons of carbon (valued at $411 million).

Remove 1 million more tons of air pollution each year. The study also found that increasing our tree cover by just 10 percent would:

  • Remove 3.1 million tons more VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions each year.
  • Sequester 9.4 million more tons of carbon each year.
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Where there’s fire, there’s smoke

…and sometimes poor air quality.

Cold temperatures often lead to nights snuggled up in piles of blankets with a good book by the fireplace. But the wood-burning fire that’s keeping you cozy might be harmful to our air. How you build your fire and what you burn can have a significant impact on air quality and health. Wood smoke contains ozone-forming gases and fine particles — also called PM2.5 — which can harm the lungs, blood vessels and heart. Reduce the amount of smoke your fire produces to help improve our air quality. Keep the following tips in mind to build a cleaner fire that produces less smoke:

What to burn:

  • Burn only dry, seasoned wood. Wet or green logs create excessive smoke and waste fuel. Listen for a hollow sound when you strike two logs together as an indication of proper seasoning.
  • Hardwoods burn hotter. Soft woods like pine and cedar catch easily and make good kindling, but hardwoods burn longer, hotter and with less smoke once the fire is burning.
  • Never burn household garbage, cardboard, painted or treated wood, or any wood that contains glue, such as plywood or particle board. These items release toxic chemicals when burned, and if you’re using a wood stove they can damage it.

How to build:

  • Start a small fire with dry kindling, and then add a few pieces of wood. Be sure there is space between the pieces of wood and give the fire plenty of air until it’s roaring.
  • Try building a “top-down” fire to maximize heating performance and reduce smoke. It also reduces the amount of work needed to keep the fire going.

Be safe!

  • Wood-burning stoves or appliances should operate without producing smoke. If you see or smell smoke, there is a problem with your appliance. Check EPA’s Burn Wise program for more tips to keep you safe and while you stay warm.
  • And always make sure you have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in your home!
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Put on a sweater!

…and seven more winter actions that help our air quality

By Doug Norsby, Air Quality Planner III

Even though it seems to have taken longer this year, cold weather is moving in and evenings at home are a bit more brisk. It can be tempting to bump the thermostat up a few degrees, but doing so increases energy use, costs money and adds more emissions to our air. Before turning the dial, consider these ideas to make sure your home is winter-ready.

  • Drafty doors can benefit from a few easy fixes. Always close a door tightly — even between short trips to-and-from the car to the house. For especially drafty doors, buy or construct your own draft stopper to prevent that toe-chilling air flow.
  • Lower the thermostat overnight while everyone is sleeping. For periods of more than eight hours, each degree of difference can save 1 percent on your heating bill.

And of course, make your mother proud by putting on a sweater and some cozy socks when you’re feeling chilled. Drink a warm beverage or snuggle up with your favorite pet. You can stay toasty warm without touching that thermostat.

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Another quiet ozone season thanks to cool mid-summer temperatures

Ozone Season 2014

By Doug Norsby, Air Quality Planner III

Again this year, a wet spring followed by mild summer weather provided a welcome relief from the high ozone levels seen during 2011 and 2012. The 2014 ozone season began with normal temperatures and rainfall in April and May, followed by above-average rainfall in early June and below-average temperatures in July, resulting in a relatively good ozone season. MARC issued 46 yellow SkyCasts and two orange Ozone Alerts for the Kansas City region’s air quality maintenance area. The low number of yellow and orange SkyCasts was almost identical to last year’s numbers.

The SkyCast is issued daily during ozone season (April 1–Oct. 31) and corresponds with the Air Quality Index (AQI), a public information tool that associates colors and health messages with ranges of air pollutant concentrations. This season, only two days exceeded the standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect public health.

At the conclusion of the 2014 season, ozone monitor readings appear to show that the Kansas City region is no longer violating the ozone standard for the first time since 2010. However, federal law requires EPA to periodically review air quality standards to ensure that they provide adequate health and environmental protection, and to update those standards as necessary. EPA is currently in the process of reviewing the ozone standard and is expected to propose a new standard in December. If it is tightened, it is likely that the recent lower readings will still fall in the range that is considered to be unhealthy.

The region continues to employ voluntary strategies to reduce ozone-forming and greenhouse gas emissions, and our participation in the EPA’s Ozone Advance program and implementation of our award-winning Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) both leverage local community actions to reduce potential federally mandated and state-imposed regulations.

For more information, contact the MARC Air Quality program.

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