BALTIMORE, MD (May 9, 2006) – Maryland’s Department of the Environment (MDE) reminds residents of the Baltimore-Washington area that they have easy access to air quality forecasts and tips to help them breathe easier during ozone season. May 1 marks the beginning of ground level ozone season in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area and it ends Sept. 30.
MDE now offers extended range air quality forecasts that provide the public advanced notice of air quality events. This advance notice allows the public to limit their exposure to unhealthy air and enact a plan to reduce pollution at home and at work.
“As summer approaches, it is a good time to think about daily practices that can make for a healthier environment,” said MDE Secretary Kendl P. Philbrick. “Air quality forecasts are an excellent tool to help people inform and protect themselves from ozone air pollution. They also serve as a reminder that we have made great progress to reduce air pollution, but there is still more work to be done to clean up the region’s air.”
Ozone levels dropped dramatically in 2003, 2004, and 2005 because of new regulatory programs and weather. With the Governor’s Clean Power Ruled being adopted to implement the Healthy Air Act, Maryland is on target to meet federal air quality standards by 2010.
MDE forecasts daily ozone and particle levels and issues e-mails to the public, businesses and the media via AirWatch. AirWatch is a “real time” air quality data notification system that can be visited online at www.air-watch.net or by calling (410) 537-3247. The AirWatch program is a regional initiative aimed at developing environmental awareness for the citizens of the Baltimore/Washington metropolitan region about air pollution. More than 500 businesses and individuals currently receive air quality forecasts and in turn forward this information to thousands more throughout the region.
Hourly air pollution levels are collected from a comprehensive network of monitors throughout the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas and are displayed in an interactive map. The map is color coded to represent current readings of air quality monitored within counties and municipalities recording air pollution data. The real-time map allows the public to monitor air quality conditions near their community and adjust their daily activities accordingly.
“It is important for Maryland’s citizens to take an active role helping further clean Maryland’s air by investigating their local air quality. This involvement helps individuals to develop an understanding of air quality issues, and, we hope, to then become actively involved in protecting their health and finding solutions to air pollution,” said Tad Aburn, director of MDE’s Air and Radiation Management Administration. “Because of aggressive regulatory programs targeting point sources, in 2006 hydrocarbon emissions from lawn mowing, painting, and other consumer products are at least three times greater than hydrocarbon emissions from smoke stacks. These are areas where voluntary action can really make a difference.”
Visitors to AirWatch may also choose to register for the AirAlert notification system. AirAlert is a free service that instantly transmits an email to subscribers when the air is unhealthy. AirAlert enables users be the first to know when air quality is reaching unhealthy levels. “We consider it an early warning system for your lungs,” Aburn added.
MDE also provides year-round reporting on another air pollutant, fine particles. Particles or “particulate matter” refer to the mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air. Unlike ozone, fine particles are not a seasonal pollutant and these forecasts will be continued throughout the year.
Particle exposure can lead to a variety of health effects. For example, numerous studies link particle levels to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits – and even to death from heart or lung diseases. Both long- and short-term particle exposures have been linked to health problems.
Research has shown that pollution blown into Maryland from other states is a significant factor in the quality of Maryland’s air. Without more stringent regional controls, it will be very difficult for Maryland to achieve the national ozone standard.
Throughout the month of May (Clean Commute Month), people are encouraged to try alternatives to commuting in a single occupied vehicle, such as forming a carpool, use public transit, telework, walk or bicycle. These alternatives reduce pollution from tailpipe emissions by reducing the number of vehicles on our roadways.
Another important way of preventing and reducing pollution is to drive a well-maintained vehicle. MDE and its partners will be holding several Car Care Clinics in May and June – check the clean commute website for times and locations. The clinics will have certified technicians who, with car owners, will visually inspect vehicles and demonstrate how to check tire pressure, fluid levels, wiper blades, filters, etc. Each inspection will take approximately 20 minutes.
For more information on air quality, call MDE’s Air Quality Hotline at (410) 537-3247 or MDE’s Air and Radiation Management Administration at (410) 537-3265. To learn more about Clean Commute Month, visit www.baltometro.org/cc/cleancommute.html. More information about fine particles is available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at: www.epa.gov/airnow.
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