Tag Archives: air quality

Cities Map, Manage and Maintain Urban Trees

Fall trees with crosswalk signalAs financially constrained cities struggle to grow and manage their urban tree canopy, dedicated nonprofits, institutions and volunteers have joined forces to help U.S. cities map and maintain their street trees. These organizations often champion urban forestry mapping projects, helping municipalities select diversified species of trees and identify new planting needs. In turn, many open-source mapping services have emerged, providing a low- to no-cost platform for mapping street trees and quantifying the significant ecological services they provide.

An accurate inventory helps cities manage their trees and prioritize maintenance needs. Successful endeavors to map street trees are underway in cities across the country. New York City’s TreesCount!, an effort to map every tree in the city, counted and collected data for 650,000 trees with the help of more than 2,000 volunteers. In San Francisco, a collaboration between the city and a local nonprofit led to the launch of Urban Forest Map, an effort to count street trees and assess their canopy with an eco-benefit tool, providing a one-stop shop for tree data. In the nation’s capital, Casey Trees aims to preserve Washington D.C.’s street trees through mapping, field work and aerial imagery. Many of these mapping initiatives are large-scale, citizen science projects that rely on community members to contribute tree data using apps on their mobile devices.

Tree mapping data is used to estimate the environmental and economic benefits street trees provide. Mapping software tools like OpenTreeMap quantify services in terms of dollars in a user-friendly format. Improved air quality through carbon sequestration, improved water quality through natural stormwater management, and heat island reduction are a few ecosystem services trees provide. In addition to these services, well-maintained street trees boost local economies by increasing property values and creating safe, vibrant public spaces. Tree maps can be used as environmental education tools and to help build communities around urban forests. Investing in tree inventory data is a great way for cities to adapt to changing climates and improve many public health issues.

Here in Kansas City, where tree cover is around 18 percent, mapping has not been completed for individual trees. However, the iTree Eco Model, used to advance understanding of forest resources, assessed economic value the region’s trees provide. The total value of ecosystem services trees provide is a staggering $93.4 billion in the Greater Kansas City region.  Data from iTree can help the metro area better care for our thriving urban forest and maintain it for the future. Results from the study can be found in MARC’s Tree Data Summary.

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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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Food for thought — and our air

idle-free school zone

Do you take your lunch to work or go out to eat? Either way, we have some tips to make your meal sustainable and waste free so you can have your lunch and reduce your carbon footprint, too.

  • Reduce, reuse and recycle your lunch. Reduce your food waste — the single-largest source of waste in municipal landfills — by adjusting your lunch size to match your appetite. Reuse lunch containers to limit your food wrapper trash. Recycle your leftovers by composting any food you won’t eat later. Contact MARC or Bridging the Gap for guidance on developing a food recycling program at your office.
  • Buy local foods. You can protect air quality by purchasing local foods — less time on the delivery truck means fewer emissions polluting the air. Buying local produce and meats doesn’t have to be expensive or a hassle. LocalHarvest and KC Food Circle can help you find local farmers’ markets, community sustainable agriculture (CSA), farms and shops. If you’re eating out, try carpooling or riding transit to a restaurant that gets its ingredients from area farms.
  • Encourage food waste recycling programs. Recycling food waste makes use of valuable organic resources instead of filling up landfills. Programs like Missouri Organic Recycling’s FRED Project provide a collection service for schools and businesses. These programs often offer a free audit to assess your institution’s needs and provide education to employees or students. In 2012, the Shawnee Mission School District was recognized for its composting efforts through MARC’s Sustainable Success Stories.
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Avoid idling cars on school grounds

idle-free school zone

Car idling is a big concern for air quality, and one place that is notorious for lots of idling engines is your local school. When dropping off or picking up children from school, it’s important to be aware of your idling habits. Turning off your car engine while stopped helps improve the air quality by reducing the amount of ozone-forming emissions and other pollutants.

  • Idling is bad for students with asthma. According to Children’s Mercy Hospital, one in 10 people is affected by asthma, including more than 28,500 children in the Kansas City area. Less idling means fewer vehicle emissions and particles that contribute to air pollution, making the air safer for everyone to breathe. Take a look at this checklist to determine if your school is asthma-friendly.
  • Parent organizations can be drivers of change. PTAs, PTOs or School Advisory Councils can encourage schools to implement Idle Free Zones. MARC provides schools with signs to place along pick-up and drop-off areas and parking lots as a helpful reminder to parents and visitors that your school is committed to preventing increased emissions and protecting air quality. Contact a MARC Air Quality staff member if you would like a presentation about air quality at your next PTA meeting.
  • Watch D.O.G.S. can watch out! Does your school have a Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) or other parent volunteer program? These volunteers can help improve air quality by asking parents to turn off their engines during drop-off and pick-up times. You are also a critical role model, so practice healthy air habits like not idling and speak up for your student’s health!
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Be air-friendly on campus

packed carThe first day of college is an exciting step for a freshman — and may be ho-hum for returning upperclassmen. But both newbies and old hands can make life on campus air-friendly by going car-light or car-free. Keep these tips in mind as you send your student off on that next adventure:

  • Carpooling is for cool kids. Sharing the ride between home and college with a new friend can save emissions and gas money, especially if each student would have otherwise driven separately. Plus, the long car trips provide an opportunity to get to know new friends. Try using RideShare’s single trip matching to find a carpool buddy.
  • Consider car-sharing. Most colleges require that freshmen live on campus, and campuses are often easy to navigate by bike or on foot. For those occasional off-campus trips, research car sharing services such as ZipCar — available in our area at the University of Missouri–Kansas City — or look for a similar company in another city.
  • Invest in two wheels instead of four. A bike — with a reliable lock — will often get a student closer to class in less time, compared to driving in circles searching for a spot in overcrowded parking lots. Try a folding bike for cramped dorm spaces. And don’t forget that your Kansas City B-Cycle membership works in more than 20 cities nationwide!

Staying local? Most of our region’s local colleges are served by public transportation. In fact, a UMKC student ID doubles as a KCATA bus pass and the JO’s K-10 Connector runs between KU’s Edwards and Lawrence campuses with a stop at Johnson County Community College in between. Try a combination of carpooling, biking and transit to get from home to class. All of Kansas City’s regional transportation systems use Google Maps, so finding a route is just a few clicks away.

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Ozone season is underway!

air_quality_indexWe had a long, persistent winter, but the days are finally getting longer and temperatures are starting to rise. However, warmer temperatures bring the chance for more ozone pollution. That’s why the period from April 1 to Oct. 31 is known as “ozone season.”

Ozone pollution, also known as smog, is formed when emissions from man-made sources react in heat and sunlight. Ozone is harmful for everyone; it can cause coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. But for children or people with breathing or heart problems, it can be dangerous.

So how do you know when ozone pollution may be a problem?

Check the SkyCast! The SkyCast is the daily, regional air quality forecast issued by the MARC Air Quality Program. You’ll see “Ozone Alerts” when our air is forecast to be poor. There are many ways you can get updates:

The most important thing to remember about ozone pollution is that you can help reduce it. Throughout ozone season we’ll post tips for helping our air, so be sure to check back for information on the small steps you can take to reduce pollution.

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Time for a fresh (air) start

2014 in clouds
Now that we’ve rung in the New Year with all its hope and possibilities, let’s take advantage of the opportunity to make a fresh start — and help air quality. Try incorporating these air-friendly actions with your new goals:

  • Walk or bike to run errands. Reducing the number of trips you make in your car prevents harmful emissions from entering our air and saves money on fuel and maintenance. Plus, the extra exercise will help you feel better and improve your health. Take a friend, neighbor or family member along for a great conversation.
  • Save money in small ways. Easy steps include not idling your vehicle on cold mornings, adjusting your thermostat and turning down your hot water heater. Save that money for things you really want to do.
  • Eat healthy. You can plan now for your own garden in the spring or join a co-op that provides locally grown food. Don’t forget to evaluate your diet: try to eat foods that require less energy to produce and less transportation to get to your table.
  • Build your network. A simple way to meet new people is to carpool or ride transit for your commute. Travelling with a co-worker can build a stronger relationship, and riding the bus can help you find new contacts from other businesses.
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New “LoNo” program promotes clean air, reduced energy use

bus iconOur MARC Transportation Matters bloggers wrote a great summary about the Jan. 9 announcement of the Federal Transit Administration’s new Low or No Emission Vehicle Deployment Program (LoNo).

This quote from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx sums up why we’re excited to see this new program:

“The LoNo program will make a real difference in people’s lives by helping them get to work or school while letting them breathe clean air. We are proud to initiate a new program that reflects a commitment to reducing our nation’s dependence on oil while developing more sustainable sources of energy here at home.”

Click over to Transportation Matters for more information!

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