By Leslie Coolidge, DHEC Air Quality Program Manager
Ever since humans learned to use fire we’ve had issues with air quality. The quality of the air we breathe directly impacts public health and quality of life, so air pollution is an important issue that communities, government organizations and citizens have been working together to improve. Air Quality Awareness Week is a great time for businesses, citizens and communities to learn more about air quality and to take steps to care for the air.
Air Quality Standards
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) operates air monitoring stations throughout South Carolina to measure the concentrations of pollutants in outdoor (ambient) air that are considered harmful to public health and the environment.
Since the Clean Air Act was enacted in 1970, levels of criteria air pollutants (ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxides and lead) have been reduced dramatically. This is quite an accomplishment as the global population, vehicle miles traveled, and CO2 emissions have increased during this same time period. This improvement in air quality is thanks to improved controls, technology advancements and emission reductions from both stationary and mobile sources of pollution.
The Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to periodically review the latest science and technology information to determine if air quality standards are set at the appropriate level. Upon review, EPA sometimes determines that standards should be more stringent. This means improved health protection, and also greater challenges for states to stay in compliance with air quality standards.
Ozone: Good Up High, Bad Nearby
Ground-level ozone is a pollutant that poses one of the biggest challenges for air quality in South Carolina. The most significant things to cause ground-level ozone to form are oxides of nitrogen (NOX), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and UV radiation from sunlight. High ozone concentrations generally occur on hot, sunny days when the air is stagnant. Mobile sources of air pollution, such as cars, trucks, and lawn equipment, contribute to more than half of South Carolina’s ozone levels.
Warmer weather increases the risk of ozone pollution, which can especially be a concern for children, older adults, people with breathing problems or people who spend a lot of time outside. Between April 1 and September 30, DHEC provides a daily ozone forecast to help South Carolinians stay informed about potential health risks associated with air quality.
To help keep ozone levels down, avoid idling, drive less and save energy. Limit unnecessary trips or try walking, biking, carpooling or using public transport to get where you need to go. Visit www.scdhec.gov/ozone to learn more about ground-level ozone pollution.
Air quality flags are a great way for schools and other organizations to increase awareness and share the air quality forecast by flying a flag that corresponds with the forecast color. Learn more about the Air Quality Flag Program at www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=flag_program.index or contact Lisa Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
For more information about air quality regulations in South Carolina and how you can get involved in improving the air, visit www.scdhec.gov/HomeAndEnvironment/Air.