This week has special significance for Georgians as we gird our lungs in preparation for smog season, which begins May 1 and runs all the way until September 30. This five-month stretch can be very taxing for asthmatic children, the elderly and anyone with sensitivities to ground-level ozone and particle pollution.
But before we sigh in exasperation over the next public health issue we must tackle after pollen and swine flu, let's celebrate: Governor Perdue has officially proclaimed this week to be Air Quality Awareness Week. This proclamation draws attention to the significant challenges we face in beating back ambient air pollution ... and it puts the ball in our court to act. Is there anything positive to note on the air quality front? You bet. Here are a few things to get excited about before smog season kicks off:
1. The efforts of thousands of commuters who pledged to use commute alternatives like carpooling, vanpooling, transit, telework, bicycling and walking once a week over the course of a year have really paid off. The Clean Air Campaign is celebrating the first anniversary of the One Ton Challenge, a simple way for commuters to go green. More than 3,600 commuters took the pledge, resulting in at least 3,600 tons of pollution kept out of the air we breathe. If you're not on board yet, signing up is a snap.
2. There are quite a few long-time users of commute alternatives who are approaching big milestones in clean commuting. To commemorate the sustained efforts of these champions -- each of whom has accounted for eliminating at least 25,000 pounds of air pollution -- The Clean Air Campaign just launched a special recognition program.
3. After another dry year in 2008, things appear to be looking up in 2009 for breaking out of one of the worst droughts ever to grip the state. But we need lots of precipitation this summer to help mitigate the conditions that cause smog to form. How much rain we'll get is anyone's guess, but the Farmer's Almanac says "rainfall will be well above normal in the south." Of course, it also says we should expect a hurricane in late-August or September ... and we all remember what that did to gas prices and commuting.
This is all great news, but it's important to keep our progress toward cleaner air in perspective. Consider:
1. The American Lung Association today released its annual State of the Air report, which finds Atlanta ranked among the 25 worst metro areas for both ground-level ozone and particle pollution. We're doing marginally better when compared to previous years, but we've got more work to do.
2. Last smog season, metro Atlanta experienced nearly 30 days in which ground-level ozone and/or particle pollution reached unhealthy levels -- that's almost a month's worth of dirty air. It's important to note that the 2008 smog season brought with it the introduction of tighter standards for air quality, which were put in place to protect public health. What's encouraging is that roughly half of last year's smog days resulted from this change in standards, meaning we would only have experienced about 15 days of bad air if the old standards had remained in effect.
So, how do you see things shaping up for Georgia this year? Weigh in with a response ... and be sure to sign up for Smog Alerts from The Clean Air Campaign -- messages sent straight to your e-mail inbox or to your Twitter account (follow @CleanAirGA) to help you plan ahead when the next day's air quality is forecasted to be poor. Here's hoping we don't have to send too many messages out.