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Like a marathon runner digging deep on that last mile, many Atlantans are huffing and puffing through these last days of smog season 2010. The finish line is drawing ever closer (officially September 30), but recent air quality conditions are forcing us to limp along the final stretch.

Here are the facts for Metro Atlanta:

  • The region has racked up 25 ground-level exceedances for the year.
  • There have been nine in September alone -- that's more September exceedances than we’ve had since 1999 – when we had 14 to close out the last month of smog season.
  • We're on a streak of seven violations in the past 9 days, with another forecasted for today.

And now, some big-picture perspective on air quality:

  • Ozone concentrations in Georgia and much of the United States have improved over the past few decades, even with large population increases that put more demands on energy use and vehicle travel. This improvement has been the result of state and federal regulatory controls to reduce emissions from sources like power plants, industry and automobiles, not to mention voluntary programs like those of The Clean Air Campaign.
  • This year, metro Atlanta has been simmering over an extended period with temperatures that have been hotter than normal. Hot weather is a key ingredient to the formation of ground-level ozone. On top of that, the AJC reports only .14 inch of rain has fallen this month. That’s 2.91 inches below normal for the first three weeks of September. But conditions change often. Last year was much more forgiving ... and next year may be, too.
  • There has never been a better time to give your car the day off, as half of all smog-forming emissions in the Atlanta region come from the tailpipes of cars. Choosing to carpool, vanpool, ride transit, telework or even bicycle and walk can make all the difference for healthier air. Sooner or later, rethinking the drive-alone commute crosses the mind of every commuter who is fed up with traffic congestion and lost money/time. So, when will you reach your tipping point?

What's a parent to do on a Code Orange day?
The Clean Air Campaign received a call this week from a concerned parent looking for guidance on whether his children should participate in outdoor activities involving physical exercise. While the best advice for parents is to consult with their child's pediatrician, there is a great reference document prepared in collaboration between The Clean Air Campaign and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta with guidelines on protecting children from air pollution. Worth a look for any parent with active children.

Full recap on smog season coming soon ...
Watch this space for a full recap of smog season 2010. The Clean Air Campaign is crunching numbers and will deliver a summary in early-October, plus a look ahead to pending changes regarding the standards by which ground-level ozone is measured.



Sometimes when you want to get your point across about social change, satire works best. That's the thinking behind a campaign in Hong Kong to improve air quality. This mock infomercial was created by the Hong Kong Clean Air Network. Check it out:

Humor works to command attention. So does a good visual demonstration. Watch The Clean Air Campaign's more straight-forward pitch on smog awareness here.



Hold your breath, Georgia. We are officially at the midpoint of smog season, and here is where things stand with respect to the air we breathe:

1. To date, there have been about 15 instances across Georgia -- in some cases, multiple areas on the same day -- when concentrations of ground-level ozone reached unhealthy levels. Here is a trend comparison to show past years' violations (for all areas monitored in Georgia) from May 1 through July 15:

Year

Combined Violations

2006

34

2007

22

2008

33

2009

13

2010

15

As you can see, the trend is generally moving in the direction we want.

2. On July 7, metro Atlanta witnessed its first Code Red smog day since 2008, a signal that there is still much work to be done. A heat wave, combined with stagnant air and too many tailpipes out on the roads, proved too much for the region to bear.

3. While it is impossible to predict what's in store for the second half of smog season, what we do know is that the standards by which our air quality is measured - standards created by the US Environmental Protection Agency to protect public health - are slated to become more strict at the end of August. Why? Because the more we learn about the effects of long-term exposure to air pollution, the greater the sense of urgency becomes to protect ourselves.

The Clean Air Campaign is following the developments surrounding new air quality standards and we'll have more details very soon on what's changing, what impact the changes will have across Georgia and what you can do. In the meantime, stay cool and let's hope for a quiet second half to smog season.



Saw the ice cream truck in my neighborhood the other day, so it must be summer! The new season brings out the carefree kid in all of us. So, slather on some sunscreen. Throw down your towel and run through the sprinkler. Stay cool with this latest edition of Merging Lanes.

Et Tu, Kudzu?
The Clean Air Campaign is all for going green, but this is wild. As if vehicle tailpipes weren't enough, new research has introduced a new arch nemesis in Georgia's fight against ground-level ozone: kudzu. Not only is the state's landscape blanketed in the leafy green stuff from Buford to Bainbridge, but we're also learning that a chemical reaction in kudzu produces more of the nitrogen oxide compounds that are a chief ingredient in smog. So, grab your hedge clippers in the name of cleaner air. We might have to develop a new incentive program … Cash for Kudzu.

Lane ends 2,000 feet.

All Quiet on the Code Orange Front … For Now
Speaking of air pollution, we've cleared the first month of smog season 2010 edition with a flurry of exceedances in the first week, followed by three weeks straight without any. That's been a good streak. But before you get too excited, keep in mind that cooler weather probably deserves much of the credit. Any day is a good day to choose alternatives to driving alone on your daily commute. Watch this space in about 90 days, when the US Environmental Protection Agency is slated to announce new, more stringent standards for ground-level ozone to protect public health.

Lane ends 1,000 feet.

Technically Speaking, Greener Driving is Attainable
Interesting story from GreenBiz.com about new technology and tools that enhance driving efficiency. We all know about GPS, but eco-routing takes navigation a step further by tying it to fuel consumption and a futuristic ability for a car's engine to "look ahead" at the terrain to make decisions related to engine performance. Smarter travel is headed this way ... but the most intelligent way to improve the air we breathe is to drive less.

Lane ends 500 feet.

Dump the Pump with MARTA on June 17
Hop on the bus or take the train to work to help MARTA celebrate their annual "Dump the Pump" event, which takes place June 17. And for fun, MARTA is hosting a special contest that asks patrons to express via video and blog "Why MARTA Matters to the Environment." Get the details here.

Merge.



As the hub for NE Georgia, Athens is a major employment, education, health and entertainment center growing in popularity and population. A steady stream of new residents and a burgeoning daytime population brings increased challenges related to demand for energy, transportation infrastructure, and increasing air quality degradation.

According to the EPD, 62% of smog-forming emissions in Athens-Clarke County come from tailpipes of cars and trucks. This represents a significant problem for our air quality, particularly with respect to ground-level ozone. Indeed, Athens-Clarke County stands on the verge of failing to meet federal air quality standards designed to protect the public's health. With tighter standards likely to come later this year, non-attainment status could lead to stricter permitting requirements in the county, more regulatory controls, depressed economic growth, and a generally negative stigma about the quality of life in Athens.

But, with stricter regulatory and volunteer actions, Athens can face this challenge head on! By working together, every local employer, commuter, and resident can make a huge difference in improving and protecting Athens' air quality. This is one of the reasons why Athens-Clarke County partnered with the Clean Air Campaign and created Travel Smart Week as a way to showcase how choosing alternatives to driving alone can help improve the air we breathe.

Thanks to an expanding network of transportation alternatives, including Athens Transit, sidewalks, and bike lanes, individuals can travel with increasingly less dependency on their cars. Everyone is encouraged to get out of their cars, enjoy the fresh air, get some exercise and Travel Smart!

Heidi Davison is the mayor of Athens-Clarke County and serves on the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center Board. Through their use of commute options programs in the past year, Athens-Clarke County Unified Government employees have kept more than 8,000 pounds of pollution out of the air we breathe.



We're one week into the official beginning of smog season across Georgia, and the 2010 version - so far - reads nothing like that of 2009.

By all accounts, the state had a mild smog season last year, aided by slightly cooler temperatures and more rainfall. The first Code Orange smog day of 2009 didn't arrive in metro Atlanta until June 1. This year, we've come out of the gate with several Code Orange days for ground-level ozone, not just in ATL but around the state:

Date of Exceedance

Region

April 2

Rome

April 16

Athens

 

Columbus

May 5

Metro Atlanta

 

Rome

May 6

Athens

 

Metro Atlanta

 

Rome

And today is likely to mark a trifecta of dirty, brown air pollution nobody in the Atlanta region wants to see ... or breathe in. Data show we're experiencing a slightly warmer start to May than we did last year. And WSB meteorologist David Chandley points out in a quote from today's AJC that the Code Orange forecast for today is on the milder end of the spectrum. But this string of bad air days reinforces the need for Georgia employers, commuter and schools to focus on two things:

1. Reducing your exposure to air pollution
2. Reducing your contribution to the problem

Learn more about both, plus get some background on air quality issues in The Clean Air Campaign's debut podcast. Chime in and let us know what you think of it. And let us know what you're doing to beat back smog in Georgia.



I remember the moment I became part of The Clean Air Campaign. My then 6-year-old daughter had a terrible cough one night and began struggling to breathe.

She was having a severe asthma attack.

Though we live just a few miles from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, there is no longer drive on Earth than to the hospital when your child cannot breathe. She is okay now, but the impression is lasting.

I learned everything I could about asthma. For example:

  • Asthma is the #1 reason kids are admitted into emergency rooms.
  • Almost 1 in 10 children in the U.S. have asthma—that’s 7 million children who cannot breathe.
  • Asthma accounts for 10.6 million doctor visits a year

Most importantly, I learned that poor air quality can trigger asthma. There are two kinds of pollutants that can trigger respiratory problems, 1) ground level ozone and 2) particle pollution (soot). And the primary cause of all this airborne junk? Cars.

I drove to work that summer as all the facts swirled in my head. I sat in traffic and realized I was in an SUV— ALL BY MYSELF! Everything leaving my exhaust pipe was floating around waiting for my daughter and all the other people with asthma to breathe it in. That’s when I became part of The Clean Air Campaign. I now drive a hybrid, telework, carpool, ride transit, do whatever I can to keep a car off the road.

Just like a former smoker can be pretty fervent when talking to smokers, I confess I can be preachy about not spewing more stuff in the air than we have to. I know it’s not easy to get around in Atlanta without driving alone sometimes. I just ask you to think about it more. Can you ride with a co-worker to the meeting instead of taking separate cars? Can you take MARTA to the game? How about riding with your spouse or a neighbor to work? The Clean Air Campaign can even help you find a carpool partner.

Just give it a try. Change the way you drive and maybe fewer kids will have to take that long ride to the ER.

Rudy Fernandez is the owner/creative director at Radio Outhouse. Rudy and his colleagues have worked with The Clean Air Campaign for 8 years and have produced several memorable radio spots and other advertising projects for less traffic and cleaner air that are heard/seen around the region, some of which have won national recognition.



The Clean Air Campaign and Governor Perdue got together last Thursday for the signing of a special proclamation to go with Georgia’s Air Quality Awareness Week, which takes place the week of April 26 to 30. BAIR, the Better Air Bear, made a guest appearance.

From left to right: Kevin Green, Ronny Just, BAIR, Maris Green, Governor Perdue, Mia Green, Renay Blumenthal, Hannah Bowles, Mike Bradley, Marlin Gottschalk

Even though smog season does not officially begin until May 1, Athens, GA and Columbus, GA already experienced Code Orange smog days this past Friday when ground-level ozone pollution reached unhealthy levels. Get prepared for smog season by signing up for Smog Alerts.



There’s a lot going on right now in the world of mass transit, and sadly, it’s looking bleak. In metro Atlanta, C-TRAN’s service ended last week, which affected 8,500 commuters, many of whom depend on public transportation. More cuts are looming for MARTA when the calendar clicks over to the new fiscal year on July 1, 2010. However, we’re not alone. Mass transit agencies across the country are facing budget crises. According to the American Public Transportation Association, eight out of 10 bus and subway agencies are raising fares and cutting service or considering those actions. The timing couldn’t be worse with smog season just weeks away.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for these issues. But there is an influential group out there that needs to find its voice. When more employers in the region show state and local government how important mass transit is for their commuting employees, then perhaps transit won’t continue to be one of the first items on the chopping block when’s there’s a budget shortfall.

What do you think about the local service cuts? Tell us your ideas for how we all can work together to save mass transit in the Atlanta region.



Major developments on the air quality front have been a hot topic over the past week, as the US Environmental Protection Agency announced proposed new revisions to a federal air quality standard designed to protect the public from excessive exposure to ground-level ozone. The review, which is part of the Clean Air Act, is happening more than a year ahead of schedule. So, how should we take this news in Georgia, where roughly one in five counties fails to meet the current standard?

First, there are many things going right in Georgia with respect to ground-level ozone and air quality. Last year, metro Atlanta registered no Code Red days (unhealthy for all) during what was an uncharacteristically mild smog season. And we have not seen a Code Purple day (hazardous) in several years. A combination of factors have driven this positive change in our state, like scrubbers at coal-fired power plants, special blend gasoline that emits less pollution, commute options programs like the ones offered by The Clean Air Campaign and its partners, more efficient vehicles, etc.

Second, what is clear is that the more research that becomes available from the health and science communities, the stronger the connection between exposure to even small amounts of ground-level ozone and serious public health hazards. The EPA reviewed some 1,700 scientific studies prior to introducing the most recent standard change in March 2008, which ratcheted the threshold down. Today, the discussion around the latest proposed revision is that even more stringent regulations are needed to protect public health.

While it's too soon in the process to know precisely where the new threshold will fall, what is certain is that more Georgia employers, municipalities, commuters and schools will be called upon to help through voluntary actions (driving less and reducing unnecessary idling, for example). There are no quick fixes to meet the current standard, let alone a more stringent standard down the road -- especially in a state where population growth continues to place heavy demand on energy and transportation output. But Georgia is in better position than many other states that will face the challenge of meeting stricter standards because we have programs, incentives and support -- unique to Georgia and already up and running in major metropolitan areas -- that can point us in the right direction.