Making the Call for Ozone Action Days: How the Decision Happens, and Why
(Mary Dupuis, Aug. 11, 2022)
Detroit, MI – A voluntary initiative that works to reduce emissions and air pollution during spring and summer months, known as Ozone Action Days, has been in place in Southeast Michigan since 1994.
The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) has spearheaded the efforts for this mission to help reduce the amount of ozone in the air from the months of April through September.
Jim Haywood, the Senior Meteorologist in the Air Quality Division of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), said Ozone Action Days only take place in the spring/summer because this is the only time ozone is existent at the ground level.
“Oxygen is two oxygen molecules bonded together and ozone is three molecules bonded together and it’s not natural,” Haywood said. “You’ve got to have these critical compounds of pollution in the atmosphere. One of them are volatile organic compounds, what we call ‘VOCs’ and the other one is nitrogen dioxide. Now when you put those in the presence of strong solar radiation, like what you would get in the summertime, it undergoes a photochemical conversion and turns into ozone.”
Ozone Action Days take place in Oakland County to help mitigate the health problems excess ozone in the air can cause.
At the ground level ozone can cause lung problems and eye irritation for everyone. However it especially affects children, the elderly and people with respiratory conditions. Those who work, exercise or play strenuously outside are also at a higher risk of experiencing these health issues.
SEMCOG’s Clean Air Coalition’s meteorology team forecasts the Ozone Action Days based on numerous factors including meteorological conditions such as temperature, wind speed and direction, ultraviolet radiation and cloud cover. The likelihood of ozone transport from other areas and expected emissions from regional sources is also factored into the decision.
The team is run by meteorologists from the State of Michigan Department of Environment Quality and includes meteorologists from AIR, Inc., Horizon Environmental, Detroit Edison and General Motors. SEMCOG also works closely with the Department of EGLE for forecasting the Ozone Action Days.
Every Monday representatives of these groups meets virtually with similar professionals from the other states that border the Great Lakes to discuss potential weather trends with forecast maps. Here the groups will heavily examine the wind patterns and temperature profiles along with humidity and pollution levels.
Haywood said the two areas in Michigan the groups focus on are Detroit and the West Michigan lakeshore.
When an area does meet the requirements for having an Ozone Action Day the public is notified through weather reports on the television and radio as well as in local newspapers. SEMCOG details what steps should be taken during the day to help mitigate the amount of ozone present.
These steps, per SEMCOG’s website, include:
- Refueling vehicles, lawn equipment and gas cans carefully
- Delaying mowing the lawn until the evening or the next day
- If planning to barbecue using an electric starter or charcoal chimney instead of lighter fluid
- Avoiding topping off the gas tank and being sure to lift the hose high to avoid spilling gas when finished
- Choosing to refuel after 6:00 p.m. when the air is cooler and ozone formation is less likely
- Reducing automobile use and improving fuel consumption
- Avoiding excessive engine idling because excessive idling emits more pollutants than restarting a warm motor
- Combining trips or considering car and van pools or public transit for commuting
- Enjoying the day by choosing to ride a bicycle or walk to various errands and activities
Haywood said since 1999 when he began working on forecasting the Ozone Action Days and taking other measures to help improve air quality there have been positive changes seen in air quality.
“It’s been a tremendous improvement not only for the ozone numbers, but pretty much all the pollutants out there,” Haywood said. “We have seen a downward trend because of control measures that have been put in place and what not. And you can see it in the fact that EPA keeps lowering the standard about every four or five years and that is in response to the fact that the air is getting cleaner.”
Trevor Layton, the Communications Manager at SEMCOG, said Ozone Action Days are important to SEMCOG because they are a step towards bettering the lives of those in the community.
“Ultimately the reason Ozone Action matters is because it’s part of a lot of different ways we try to improve our region and we try to improve quality of life,” Layton said. “We try to do things that are fun, but those things can have an impact.”
Layton said the Ozone Action Days aren’t just important to his organization, but to himself.
“I want everyone including my family and friends and everybody to have the highest quality of life possible, the best health outcomes possible and we know that air quality is part of our environment that we live in every day,” Layton said. “So I personally don’t want to live in a place where I have to avoid going outside because the air pollution is so bad. I want to be part of reducing the impacts of air pollution.”
The number of Ozone Action Days varies every year and SEMCOG encourages community members to stay informed and watch out for the latest updates to best prepare for the days when it counts the most.
In addition to Ozone Action Days, SEMCOG helps communities include clean air standards in planning, quantifying pollution from vehicles, pinpointing air quality problems and identifying cost-effective solutions, monitoring air quality, and reporting.
Information on air quality, Ozone Action Days and more can be found on the SEMCOG website’s Air page.