BALTIMORE, MD (April 26, 2004) – 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 the upcoming ozone season.
May 1 marks the beginning of the ground level ozone season in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. [The ozone season ends Sept. 30.]
“As summer approaches, it’s a good time to think about daily practices that can make for a healthier environment,” said MDE Secretary Kendl P. Philbrick. “Summertime ground level ozone can be harmful to all of us, especially children, people with respiratory disease such as asthma, and those who work or exercise outdoors. Even at moderate levels, ozone may cause coughing, nose and throat irritation and chest pains. It can make lungs function less efficiently and it can make people more susceptible to respiratory illnesses.”
MDE forecasts daily ozone and particle levels and issued faxes and/or e-mails to the public, businesses and the media via AirWatch. AirWatch is a “real time” air quality data notification system and can be visited 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.
Over 500 businesses and individuals currently receive the air quality forecast 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 area and are displayed in a graphical interactive map. The map is color coded to represent current readings of air quality monitored within counties and municipalities recording ozone data. Users may click through the map to review data from multiple monitors within a county and review data archived since the summer of 2001. The real-time map allows the public to monitor air quality conditions near their community and adjust their daily activities accordingly.
“Through active involvement in investigating their local air quality, people develop an understanding of air quality issues and are encouraged to become actively involved in protecting their health and finding solutions to air pollution,” said Thomas C. Snyder, director of MDE’s Air & Radiation Management Administration.
Visitors to AirWatch may also choose to register for the AirAlert notification system. AirAlert is a free service that lets users know when the air is unhealthy at specific monitors. AirAlert lets you be the first to know when air quality is reaching unhealthy levels so you can protect your health or the health of someone you care about. “We consider it an early warning system for your lungs,” Snyder added.
This year also marks MDE’s start of 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 now 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. More information about fine particles is available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency www.epa.gov/airnow.
Maryland has incorporated a vast number of controls and programs aimed at reducing harmful emissions that cause air quality problems in Maryland. In addition to federal controls required in areas that exhibit air quality problems like those in Maryland, MDE has implemented a number of state and regional controls and regulations aimed at reducing the precursors of ground level ozone.
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.
For more information on air quality, call MDE’s Air Quality Hotline at (410) 537-3247 or MDE’s Air & Radiation Management Administration (410) 537-3265.