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2015-04-02

A season of potentially higher air pollution levels

AACOG Special to the Courier

April 1 marked the beginning of the "Ozone Season," a period stretching through October, when air pollution in the San Antonio area tends to spike. For the past three years, levels of ozone pollution in the air we breathe have exceeded the clean air threshold established by the federal government.
While ozone in the upper atmosphere is beneficial because it protects us from the sun's ultraviolet rays, ozone at ground level can be harmful. "Ground-level ozone is the primary component of smog. When breathed it causes respiratory problems, such as a reduction in lung function," said Brenda Williams, Interim Director of Natural Resources at the Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG). It poses greater risks to sensitive populations, especially children, people with lung ailments, and those who are active outdoors for extended periods of time.
Continued failure to meet air quality standards will likely result in steps that local governments would be required to implement in order to reduce pollution and regain our clean air status.
Ground-level ozone forms under the intense sunlight when nitrogen oxides, such as those found in gasoline exhaust and other emissions from fossil fuel combustion, combine with volatile organic compounds, such as those found in gasoline vapors and solvent fumes, so the measures the region would be required to take involve limiting such emissions.
For example, new or expanding manufacturers may be required to secure pollution reductions to offset their proposed growth, and transportation planners may be required to prove that adding capacity to the roadway system would not increase pollution from cars and trucks to qualify for federal highway funds for roadway improvements.
To signal the start of the Ozone Season, AACOG and the City of San Antonio are co-hosting the 9th annual Fresh Air Friday event on April 10, from 11:30 am to 1 pm, at Main Plaza in downtown San Antonio.
This year, however, AACOG will extend the action-oriented concept of Fresh Air Friday until the end of October by asking folks to do something special every Friday to help improve our air, such as parking and going inside a restaurant instead of idling their vehicles in drive-thru lanes, or avoiding peak driving times on congested roadways. Once people try these activities, they may become habitual.
While the extended Fresh Air Friday campaign centers on individual action, AACOG stresses that keeping our levels of air pollution down is a challenge that requires a shared commitment from regional agencies and businesses, as well as individuals. Agencies and businesses can support this particular effort by informing their employees of each new Fresh Air Friday action during the ozone season.