The award-wining Ozone Alert! Program brings citizens, business, industry and government in the Tulsa Metropolitan area together to voluntarily reduce ozone-forming emissions on days vulnerable to high ozone levels. The first of its kind, our Ozone Alert! Program has been widely replicated throughout other areas. Cities such as Dallas/Ft. Worth, San Francisco, Cincinnati, and many others, large and small, have adopted the voluntary Ozone Alert! concept. And it works!
Ground level or “bad” ozone is not emitted directly into the air but is formed by gases called nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs and NOx mainly come from vehicles and lawn equipment that use gasoline or diesel, some factories, industrial sources, solvents and nature. On hot days, VOCs and NOx “bake” together in the sun and can form high ozone concentrations in the air we breathe. In a nutshell, man-made pollution on hot wind-less summer days ‘cook’ to form ozone.
An Ozone Alert! Day is a day forecasted to have higher than healthy levels of ozone. The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, working with the National Weather Forecast, predicts days when atmospheric conditions may cause unhealthy levels of ozone in Tulsa. This advance prediction and the notification system allow the public and business community to take voluntary measures to reduce ozone formation, keeping the air as clean as possible. Stay up to date on Ozone Alert! Days by texting “AIR” to 74121 or signing up here.
The area covered by an Ozone Alert! for Tulsa is the area that would be designated nonattainment by the EPA if the standard is violated. We consider that area to be our ‘air shed’. It is at minimum, Tulsa County and portions of Creek, Osage, Rogers, and Wagoner Counties. We also define this area as the Tulsa Transportation Management Area—the regional transportation planning area; However, through negotiations with EPA, this area would be appropriately expanded or contracted. The Clean Air Act defines the default starting place for the potential non-attainment area to be the Tulsa Metropolitan Statistical Area which is all of Tulsa County and seven surrounding counties.
Ground-level ozone is formed when the sun makes certain emissions turn into ozone—over time—usually one or several hours of time. Putting your ozone-forming emissions into the air in the early hours before daybreak, (by filling your gas tank or mowing the lawn in the early morning) means those emissions will be prime several hours later for making ozone in the sunlight! In the evening when the sun starts to set, less solar energy and less time is available make ozone. Also, evening winds often increase to help dissipate emissions overnight even more. Often, evening winds may increase as well, allowing emissions to somewhat dissipate overnight.
It depends on where it is. At ground level, indeed it is. Excess ozone is a human health threat, causing lung problems and eye irritation. Everybody is vulnerable to ozone’s effects, but children, the elderly, people with respiratory conditions, and those who work, exercise, or play strenuously outdoors are particularly at risk. In the stratosphere, however, the ozone layer acts as a shield, protecting us from harmful ultraviolet rays. The Ozone Alert! program addresses the importance of preventing the formation of ground-level ozone and protecting public health. One way to think of ozone is that it is “Good Up High but Bad Nearby”. Breathing in ozone may lead to shortness of breath, chest pain, wheezing and coughing and can trigger even asthma attacks.
Ozone is three molecules of Oxygen. So in a sense, O3 is O3 no matter where it is. But Ozone is supposed to be in the upper atmosphere around the earth. It is not supposed to be at the ground level – and it’s especially not supposed to be breathed in. One way to think of it is “Good Up High but Bad Nearby”. Ozone in the upper atmosphere is a beneficial and protective layer around the earth, but at ground-level it is harmful air pollution that threatens our health, quality of life, and the Tulsa area’s economic prosperity. Ground-level ozone is created when sunlight reacts with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOX). Reducing these emissions is necessary to reduce ground-level ozone formation.
Tulsa’s Ozone Alert! Program is about ozone at ground-level – unhealthy to breathe, outdoor air
pollution. In the upper atmosphere, ozone is a protective layer around the earth; But importantly,
the two types of ozone aren’t connected. Ground-level ozone forms when volatile organic
compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) react in sunlight and heat. A summertime
chemical reaction, VOCs and NOx emissions come from sources like gasoline-powered
engines, industry and household paints and solvents. The key to reducing ozone is to reduce
the emissions that create it.
- Postpone mowing and using gas-powered lawn equipment. If you must refuel, do it in the evening. Also remember when finished, be sure to tighten your gas cap completely – both on your car and on a gas can you might be filling.
- Avoid the drive-thru and unnecessary idling
- Drive courteously – avoid quick starts and stops. Did you know that when you’re efficient to save gasoline, you’re also helping reduce pollution?
- Eat lunch in or walk to lunch
- Combine trips, consider carpooling, or public transit. Or even better…enjoy the day by riding a bicycle or walking to errands and activities.
- Here’s an easy one—Take the lawn chair over the lawnmower…especially on Ozone Alert! Days. With limited emissions controls, gas-powered lawn and garden equipment pollutes a lot more than driving a car. Try relaxing on Ozone Alert! Days and letting the grass grow a little for a noble cause.
- Stay informed. Sign up to receive Alert! Day notifications. You can sign up for text alerts by texting the word OZONE to #41411. Or get email alerts by signing up here. You can like our FaceBook Page and even Follow us on Twitter. Ozone Alert! Days are announced during weather reports on TV and radio, in the Tulsa World, and other local news. And remember, Ozone Alert! Days are forecast the day before the Alert! Day – for the following day, so you can plan ahead to take action to help clear our air!