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You can’t see it usually, but the Omaha- Council Bluffs metro area has a problem with air quality, especially during the warmer spring and summer months. It is ground-level ozone.  Whether working, playing, or exercising outside, the quality of the air we breathe impacts the quality of life for our families, businesses, health and even future economic development.

Ozone can be both good and bad depending on where it is located. Ozone located six miles up in the second layer of the atmosphere helps protect us from harmful UV rays. Ozone at ground-level ozone is a pollutant that affects our health, especially people with heart and lung conditions.  Ozone forms when nitrogen oxides from fuel combustion combine with volatile organic compounds, such as fumes from gas and other solvents, and “cook” in the summer heat. Vehicle emissions are one of the leading creators of ground-level ozone.

On October 1, 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new air quality standards and tightened the ozone standard. The updated standard requires metropolitan areas to have ground-level ozone of no more than 70 parts per billion (ppb), a reduction from the previous standard of 75 ppb.

On an average hot day, like we’ve been experiencing lately, the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area is close to exceeding this new standard for ground-level ozone.  If the metro area would end up falling below federal air quality standards and being in “non-attainment,” it would bring stricter pollution controls such as increased car ownership costs, vehicle inspections, more industry regulation and increased paperwork and reporting for businesses.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) runs the Little Steps Big Impact campaign that aims to raise awareness about the ozone problem through education.

We all can be a part of the solution to reduce ground-level ozone by taking Little Steps which make a Big Impact.

  • You don’t have to give up your usual mode of transportation entirely. Drive smarter.  Carpool, combine errands, or use MetrO! Rideshare. Consider using alternative transportation by taking the bus, biking, or walking instead of driving by yourself in your car.
  • When refueling your vehicle, do it in the cooler parts of the day so fumes can disperse overnight and don’t fill up your tank past the click.
  • Choose cleaner-burning renewable biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel when fueling your vehicle. All vehicles can use E10. FlexFuel vehicles can use E10, E15, E30 and E85.
  • Avoid idling your vehicle. Even 30 seconds uses more fuel than stopping and starting the engine.
  • Go electric or manual with mowers, leaf blowers and trimmers if possible or use gas-powered lawn equipment during the cooler parts of the day. Gas-powered models release as much as 25% unburned gasoline in the air.
  • Keep lids tightly on paints and solvents.

By considering the consequences and taking small steps, together we will make a big difference in air quality.  This means having a real impact on adult and child respiratory issues, which can reduce health costs.

Consider these facts.  Reducing 1,000 vehicles per day on the metropolitan area’s streets and highways would eliminate 255 pounds of carbon monoxide, 35 pounds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and 5.7 tons of carbon dioxide.

Remember: Ozone is good up high, bad nearby.

Just because you can’t see ground-level ozone doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  As stewards of our quality of life we each need to do what we can to help.

Check out our websites at www.littlestepsbigimpact.com or at www.omahacommuterchallenge.org for more information and ways you can help improve our region’s air quality.

“Like” us on Facebook at Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan Area Planning Agency or follow us on Twitter (@mapacog) to get regular updates about the air quality in our region.

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