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Published: Friday, 5/4/2001

Ozone Action program begins

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

If Toledo's ongoing warm spell has you contemplating summer's hot, sunny days, you're not alone.

The Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments today will begin its annual Ozone Action program, a campaign that urges people to minimize activities that contribute to poor air quality on sweltering summer afternoons.

Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., the agency will hold drawings at the Erie Street Market, with prizes to include an electric lawnmower and a gas grill, while it distributes ozone-awareness literature.

During 2000's unusually cool summer, the council of governments and the city of Toledo declared only one Ozone Action Day.

Kurt Erichsen, the metropolitan council's director of environmental planning, said officials hope to counter any sense of relaxation that may have set in because of the minimal pollution concerns last year.

“People's watchfulness is very often driven by whether they perceive a problem or not,” Mr. Erichsen said. “We need to underscore that we can't relax. We need to keep watching our air quality and make sure we keep in attainment” of federal clean-air standards.

While beneficial in the upper atmosphere as a filter for harmful sun rays, ozone generated near the earth's surface is a pollutant that makes breathing difficult.

Surface ozone is created primarily by a reaction between oxygen molecules in the air and hydrocarbon emissions from petroleum-burning vehicles and equipment.

Heat and sunlight accelerate that ozone-forming chemistry. Ozone Action Days are declared when conditions are expected to be hot, sunny, and sufficiently calm that ozone can concentrate in the air and cause health problems.

On those days, officials ask the public to minimize use of gasoline-burning equipment, avoid fueling vehicles during the middle of the day, and use car-pools, bicycles, or public transportation. As it has for several years, the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority will offer free rides on Ozone Action Days to entice bus riders.

Along with the direct health benefits, officials have noted that voluntary steps to control ozone pollution in the Toledo area reduce the chance that federal regulators will order stringent measures, such as vapor-recovery systems at local gasoline filling stations, automobile emissions testing, and additional pollution control devices at local factories.

One public health agency already has given Toledo's air a failing ozone grade.

The American Lung Association, in a report issued Monday, flunked 32 Ohio counties for the regularity with which their air contains enough ozone to aggravate problems for those who already have trouble breathing. Among the counties tagged with Fs were Lucas, Wood, and Allen in northwest Ohio.

Nationwide, the lung association said more than 141 million people lived in areas that, between 1997 and 1999, had bad enough air to warrant an F, and noted that more than half of the counties with air-quality monitoring devices received failing grades.

The lung association's methodology, however, guaranteed the high failure rate. It indexed the number of ozone-hazard days in monitored areas, giving extra weight to counties in which the most dangerous pollution was recorded, then assigned grades based on a 0-100 curve. Counties that fell below the 60th air-quality percentile got Fs.

Furthermore, most of the counties with air-quality monitoring devices are near urban areas. Besides Lucas, Wood, and Allen, no other northwest Ohio counties were covered in the lung association report because they lack such devices.

Mr. Erichsen said that giving Toledo's air a failing grade is “absurd.”

“We don't have pristine air, but it's not among the worst in the nation by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.

Neighboring Monroe County is one of seven metro-Detroit counties covered by the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments and the Clean Air Coalition, which coordinates Ozone Action alerts similar to Toledo's. No transit discounts are available on Detroit-area alert days, however.

Anita Blasius, a spokeswoman for the southeast Michigan council, said four ozone alerts were declared for that region last year, down sharply from 25 during the summer of 1999.

It is too soon to tell whether this summer will be unusually cool or warm, Ms. Blasius said. “If I could predict Michigan weather, I'd have people kneeling before me and paying me a lot of money,” she said.

The lung association report that gave metro Toledo failing air-quality grades gave Lenawee County a C, but F's to Wayne and Washtenaw counties. Monroe and Hillsdale counties have no air-quality monitoring stations.

While the Ozone Action program uses different standards than the lung association's, Ms. Blasius said “anything that raises [air quality] awareness is relevant.” The lung association, she noted, is one of the Clean Air Coalition's member agencies.



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