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.
The 1970 Clean Air Act, which made the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responsible for protecting our air, celebrated its 40th birthday on Tuesday. Thanks to the mix of regulatory and voluntary actions that resulted from this law, the air we breathe today is a lot cleaner than it used to be, but we still have a long way to go.
As you sit there and breathe in the air around you, think about what could have happened to the quality of air in our country if this monumental piece of legislation hadn’t been protecting our health and the environment for the past four decades. For a taste of the past, let’s go back to the industrial town of Donora, Pennsylvania in October 1948. A cloud of air pollution stayed over Donora for five days, killing 20 people and sickening 6,000 of the town's 14,000 people.
In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson described the state of the air by saying “dirty water and black snow pour from the dismal air to ... the putrid slush that waits for them below." Fortunately, this was not a real weather report, though the President said it could have been. The line, which came from a 600-year old vision of damnation in Dante’s Inferno, made for a startling comparison to the present day environment.
That was before the Clean Air Act. According to an EPA analysis, the first 20 years of the Act programs prevented:
- 205,000 premature deaths
- 672,000 cases of chronic bronchitis
- 21,000 cases of heart disease
- 843,000 asthma attacks
- 10.4 million lost I.Q. points in children – mostly from reducing lead in gasoline
- 18 million child respiratory illnesses
Forty years later, you may be wondering, “Where do we go from here?” How do we get to a point where all the air we breathe is clean? First, air quality standards continue to get stricter based on EPA assessments that public health is adversely affected at lower concentrations of air pollution than previously understood. The EPA is currently preparing to tighten standards again and will announce the new ones soon. A New York Times blog foresees a tough road ahead for these regulations.
The next step involves you. Your actions can and will make a difference for the air we breathe. Try simple changes like carpooling, riding transit or bicycling to work instead of driving alone. If you’re waiting in your car, turn off the engine instead of idling. The next time you purchase a car, get one that’s not as bad for the environment. Or better yet, don’t use a car at all! All of these actions add up to cleaner air for everyone. That’s something we can really celebrate!
Here’s to the next 40 years of cleaner air for everyone!
The Clean Air Campaign and its partners worked with Governor Perdue to create the first-ever Georgia Telework Week from August 23-27, 2010. Our motivation was simple considering that telework represents a convincing workplace strategy for any employer seeking to increase both efficiency and worker satisfaction. And it goes without saying that in many job centers around the state choked by traffic congestion, the best commute is the one that employees don’t have to make.
To many, telework still sounds like a concept that looms in the distance. But more employees are already doing it than most of us realize. In fact, more than 300,000 employees in metro Atlanta and around the state are already teleworking at least once per week. That translates into:
- 600,000 fewer vehicles trips to and from work (that means each work day, telework reduces the equivalent of one-third of the daily traffic on the north- and southbound lanes of Atlanta’ downtown connector);
- 12 million miles of vehicle travel eliminated from Georgia roads;
- and 6,000 tons of pollution kept out of the air we breathe.
This is made possible by one of the most robust broadband Internet networks anywhere in the country … and a growing number of Georgia employers who understand the business case for telework means enhanced productivity by as much as 20%, lower overhead and stronger continuity of operations in case of natural or man-made disasters or emergencies.
More employees in metro Atlanta are working to make their case for telework, too. In fact, another 350,000 employees in the region do not currently telework but believe their job function would allow it.
Here are results from The Clean Air Campaign’s first-ever Georgia Telework Week:
- Some 150 employers across the state – including half of Georgia’s Fortune 500 companies – gave their support to Georgia Telework Week.
- One employer conveyed that “We have experienced a growth in individual responsibility to improve the environment and an increase in morale by implementing [a telework] program.”
- Nearly 900 Georgia teleworkers completed an online survey on their experiences with telework:
- When asked to rate the statement "I am more productive on days when I telework compared to when I work at my place of employment," more than 81% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed.
- When asked to rate the statement “Being able to telework increases my job satisfaction," 85.8% of respondents strongly agreed and 12.5% agreed.
- In showing their support for Georgia Telework Week, comments included:
- “When working out of my home office I have no distractions or disruptions. My favorite aspect is that my commute is now one flight of stairs.”
- “I cut out a commute which lasted 45 minutes in the morning and about an hour at night. I have more time with my family.”
- Teleworking employees also submitted 29 nominations to recognize the efforts of their supervisors as part of The Clean Air Campaign’s Telemanager of the Quarter program.
Georgia’s first-ever Telework Week helped start more conversations about a workplace strategy whose time has come … and how The Clean Air Campaign helps employers start or expand programs with nationally-acclaimed consulting services provided at no cost.
The week also served to raise this simple question for the modern workplace: in our ever-connected world, how much longer will the workforce be content to drive an average of 20 miles to get from one computer to another?
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.