As the city reopens and folks get back out and about this summer, there are quite a few ways Kansas Citians can help cut down on air pollution in the metro says Doug Norsby, an air quality planner for The Mid-America Regional Council (MARC). This nonprofit association of city and county governments “works on behalf of the nine counties and 119 cities in the KC region,” says Norsby. “Inside MARC’s Air Quality Program, we work with community partners to monitor our air quality, reduce air pollution, and help everyone breathe a little bit easier.”
Air pollution from utilities and manufacturing is subject to a multitude of state and federal regulations monitored by state and local government. According to Norsby, what most people don’t know is that more than half of all ozone pollution is caused by everyday people doing everyday things. A regional clean-air action plan that outlines what Kansas City can do as a region to reduce pollution and help with energy efficiency was originally created in 2005. It has been updated several times as the region’s made progress on ozone reduction and added new control strategies.
And there are many ways you can help prevent ground-level ozone pollution. “Air pollution often comes from transportation, and we’re trying to mitigate the amount of pollution stemming from traffic,” Norsby says. “Drivers can do several things to reduce emissions from your vehicle.”
- First, consider not using a vehicle at all. Residents can help reduce ozone pollution by walking or biking, especially if they are going to a location near their house.
- For longer trips, carpooling or riding the bus are great options.
- Before heading out on a lengthy road trip, make sure your car has been recently maintained and checked.
- Ride safely—and efficiently. Be conscientious of how long your car idles. Avoid hard starts and stops, use cruise control on the highway, “and practice trip-chaining—making one long, efficiently planned trip instead of a bunch of small ones,” says Norsby.
When it’s particularly muggy or stifling outside, there are also plenty of things folks can do to curb a spike in ground-level ozone. “If you can put off or postpone several activities until later in the evening, it can be immensely helpful,” says Norsby.
- Even the time of day you fill your car’s gas tank or mow your lawn can make a difference. Fueling up and mowing in the evening limits the opportunity for ozone pollution to develop.
- Be mindful of releasing unhealthy vapors that contribute to pollution—squeezing in extra gas can adversely affect your car’s onboard vapor recovery system. “Don’t forget to always stop when the pump clicks off,” says Norsby
- Use electrical equipment instead of gas-powered equipment. “Even small gas mowers can create air pollution,” says Norsby. “If you’re using solvents—like staining your deck—do those things in the evening, as it can also prevent ozone from developing.”
- Finally, if you’re in the market for a new grill, consider purchasing a gas grill. Gas grills are more efficient than charcoal grills, especially natural-gas grills, which produce even fewer pollutants than propane grills. Also, ease up on lighter fluid, as it emits volatile organic compounds.
In addition to Facebook and Twitter pages, MARC’s Air Quality Program also created AirQKC.org, a public education website with helpful information about how to improve air quality. Visitors to the site can also follow the site’s popular regional SkyCast forecast. “Think of SkyCast as ozone forecasting,” says Norsby. “We work with meteorologists in KC and they evaluate pollution coming in from outside areas, weather conditions, potential for locally contributed ozone pollution and how it all comes together. If there’s going to be a poor-quality air day, we issue an ozone alert.”
When an ozone alert is issued, metro residents should take precautions, as ozone pollution can cause a variety of problems, even in healthy adults, including chest pains, coughing, nausea, throat irritation, and difficulty breathing. People who are sensitive to air pollution—including children, older adults, and people with breathing or heart problems—should take special care to limit outdoor activity between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.
“We’ve been fairly fortunate in recent years. In the last two years we have not issued any alerts, but we did issue ten ozone alerts in 2018. If you go back about a decade to 2012, we had a season with 23 ozone alerts,” says Norsby. “There was considerable drought that year. But historically, there are between seven and ten ozone alerts annually.”
Norsby reminds people that it’s an ideal time of year to finally come out of the shadow of Covid. “Things are starting to open up again and it’s a great opportunity, a great time to get out and hike, bike, and do things in ways that don’t increase environmental pollution,” he says. “Let’s get together in eco-friendly ways!”