BALTIMORE, MD (May 13, 2005) – 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 provides the public and business community advanced notice of air quality events. This advance notice will allow 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’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 issues faxes and/or 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 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 users be the first to know when air quality is reaching unhealthy levels so they can protect their health or that of someone they care about. “We consider it an early warning system for your lungs,” Snyder 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. More information about fine particles is available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website at: 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.
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. To learn more about Clean Commute Month, visit www.baltometro.org/cc/cleancommute.html.
Another important way of preventing and reducing pollution is to drive a well-maintained vehicle. MDE and its partners will be holding two Car Care Clinics in June, free to the public. 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. The first clinic, co-sponsored by MDE, Catonsville Community College, AAA and Baltimore Metropolitan Council, will be held at Catonsville Community College June 4 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The second clinic, co-sponsored by MDE and the American Lung Association of Maryland, will be held at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen June 25 from 8 a.m. until Noon.
For more information on air quality, call MDE’s Air Quality Hotline at (410) 537-3247 or MDE’s Air & Radiation Management Administration at (410) 537-3265.