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What is an Ozone Action Day?

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During the summertime we enjoy sunny, hot days. But sometimes the atmosphere becomes stagnant with little or no rainfall. When persistent high pressure is overhead it keeps the air from rising much (few clouds and no rain) and keeps the air from moving much (air pollution can become more concentrated).

"Ground level" ozone is created when sunlight reacts with certain types of air pollution. Ozone in the middle atmosphere is helpful (it reduces the amount of UV rays making it to Earth). But ozone down where we live can be harmful.

Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. "Bad" ozone also can reduce lung function and inflame the linings of the lungs. Repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissue. See more information on ozone here.

When ground level concentrations of ozone are forecast to become unhealthy, an Air Quality Alert is issued (also called Ozone Action Days). Locally the air quality alert is issued by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Most of the time any air quality alerts put the Tri-Cities area in the Code Orange level. This means ozone levels are unhealthy for sensitive groups. Sensitive groups include people with lung disease (such as asthma), active adults and children. The general public is likely not affected much during Code Orange days.

What can you do?

In many places, ozone peaks in mid-afternoon to early evening. Change the time of day of strenuous outdoor activity to avoid these hours, or reduce the intensity of the activity.

Help your local electric utilities reduce ozone air pollution by conserving energy at home and the office. Consider setting your thermostat a little higher in the summer.

During the summer, fill your gas tank during the cooler evening hours and be careful not to spill gasoline. Reduce driving, carpool, use public transportation, walk, or bicycle to reduce ozone pollution, especially on hot summer days.

Drive your vehicle that gets the best gas mileage. Limit engine idling, skip the drive thru. Don't burn leaves or trash. There is a $50 penalty in Sullivan, Hawkins, Unicoi, Carter, and Washington Counties if you burn on an Ozone Action Day. Open burning of household garbage, tires, treated lumber products - basically anything other than vegetation grown on-site and untreated lumber is illegal at any time.

Rainfall and enough wind to mix the atmosphere helps improve air quality. Check with News 5 for updates on air quality and any severe weather alerts. Visit our weather section for more information.

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