County Comment: Washington County reminds residents to check air quality during ozone season

County Comment
Washington County reminds residents to check air quality during ozone season
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

The Washington County Board of County Commissioners reminds residents that they have easy access to air quality forecasts and tips to help them breathe easier during ozone season. May 1 marked the beginning of ground level ozone season, which ends Sept. 30. A link from the County website for direct air quality information has been provided for this purpose.
An extended range of air quality forecasts provide the public and business community advance notice of air quality events. Advance notice allows the public to limit exposure to unhealthy air and enact a plan to reduce pollution at home and at work.
Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) forecasts daily ozone and particle levels and issues e-mails to the public, businesses and the media via AirWatch. AirWatch is a "real time" air quality data notification system at www.air-watch.net or by calling 410-537-3247. The AirWatch program is a regional initiative aimed at developing environmental awareness for the citizens.
Hourly air pollution levels are collected from a monitor located in the County and are displayed in a graphical interactive map. The map is color coded to represent current readings of air quality monitored within counties and municipalities recording air pollution data. The real-time map allows the public to monitor air quality conditions near their community and adjust their daily activities accordingly.
Visitors to AirWatch may also choose to register for the AirAlert notification system. AirAlert is a free service that instantly transmits an email to subscribers when the air is unhealthy. AirAlert lets users be the first to know when air quality is reaching unhealthy levels so they can protect their health or that of someone they care about. Citizens can also view air quality information on the County website, www.washco-md.net or on weather channel cable broadcasts and local radio and TV weather forecasts.
MDE also provides year-round reporting on another air pollutant, fine particles. Particles or "particulate matter" refer to the mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air. Unlike ozone, fine particles are not a seasonal pollutant and these forecasts will be continued throughout the year.
Particle exposure can lead to a variety of health effects. For example, numerous studies link particle levels to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits--and even to death from heart or lung diseases. Both long- and short-term particle exposures have been linked to health problems. More information about fine particles is available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's at: www.epa.gov/airnow.
Maryland has incorporated a vast number of controls and programs aimed at reducing harmful emissions that cause air quality problems in Maryland. In addition to federal controls required in areas that exhibit air quality problems like those in Maryland, MDE has implemented a number of state and regional controls and regulations aimed at reducing the precursors of ground level ozone. Ozone levels dropped dramatically in 2003, 2004, and 2005 because of new regulatory programs and weather. With the Governor's Clean Power Ruled being adopted to implement the Healthy Air Act, Maryland is on target to meet federal air quality standards by 2010.
Research has shown that pollution blown into Maryland from other states is a significant factor in the quality of Maryland's air. Without more stringent regional controls, it will be very difficult for Maryland to achieve the national ozone standard.
For more information on air quality, call the Washington County Planning Department at 240-313-2430 or MDE's Air Quality Hotline at 410-537-3247.