First, it’s best to understand what an Ozone Action Day is. North Texas falls within non-attainment for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air quality standards, but most days the region’s air quality remains within a good or moderate range. Ground-level ozone affects this region the most, which is different from atmospheric ozone, a good form of it that protects us from ultraviolet rays. Ground-level ozone forms when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, oil and gas drilling, and other sources react chemically in the presence of sunlight. On hot days when ozone levels are high, the air can become unhealthy to breathe for people with respiratory problems. There are even days when it can be hazardous for everyone.
The time to be most conscientious about all of this is March through October, North Texas’ ozone season. The daily measurements of ozone can be read on an Air Quality Index (AQI) chart. These charts show how good or bad the air quality is by associating pollution levels with different colors. Days that are green on the AQI chart mean the air is healthy and breathable. Red days, however, are the opposite and ozone levels are high. An example of an AQI chart is pictured below.
Though Ozone Action Days come few and far between, it’s important to know what to do when they arrive. Here are some tips:
Stay Up-To-Date with the Air Quality Forecast: The North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) provides current ozone activity and information. This resource shows air quality levels for the North Central Texas region, making it easy to find information about air quality conditions in areas closest to you. Additionally, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) sends daily emails giving a four-day forecast for air quality. The emails provide detailed descriptions of what is prompting ozone levels to rise or fall, making them a good resource to assist in preparing for possible Ozone Action Days. Last, Air North Texas provides Ozone Action Day Alerts, sending emails to inform when air quality is predicted to be in the unhealthy range or higher for sensitive groups in parts of or the entire North Texas nonattainment region. These alerts are generally sent a day before, which can allow you to plan ahead. You can subscribe to receive alerts.
Have a Commute Plan: The majority of ozone pollution comes from vehicle emissions. When you’ve been alerted of an upcoming Ozone Action Day, be sure to have a commute plan to help lower pollution levels. These plans can include carpooling to work, taking mass transit, or cycling if these options are available to you. If not, try to do as little driving as possible. Save errands for the next day or trip chain, meaning do all of your driving at once, rather than returning to and from the house.
Home Cooking: Do all of your meal preparation at home. If an Ozone Action Day is expected during the work week, pack a lunch at home and take it to the office. This will help avoid an extra trip during lunch and possible drive-thru idling. When you’re home for the evening, cook a meal rather than picking up or having something delivered.
Weekend Plans: If an Ozone Action Day falls on a weekend, have a few backup activities planned that don’t involve much traveling. Stay in – marathon some movies or catch up on reading and consider it a much-needed relaxation day. If there are children in your family, have an arts and crafts day. If you decide to go out, stay in the area and see about carpooling to whatever you do.
Although most of these practices are good measure on Ozone Action Days, they’re handy tips for good air quality days as well. Staying conscientious about traveling habits can make a big impact on the North Texas’s environment over time, meaning fewer high ozone days.