April 30 through May 4 is Air Quality Awareness week, a cooperative effort between the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Weather Service (NWS) to remind everyone to protect their health by paying attention to local air quality. With the onset of warmer weather, DEM is urging Rhode Islanders to be aware of the increased risk of ground-level ozone and fine particle pollution, and take health precautions when smog levels are high.
When air quality is expected to reach unhealthy levels due to elevated levels of ozone or fine particle pollutants in the air, DEM issues an Air Quality Alert under a joint air quality program DEM manages with the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), and the Rhode Island Department of Health (HEALTH). The year-round Air Quality Alert program encourages residents to reduce air pollutant emissions by limiting their car travel and their use of small engines, lawn mowers, and charcoal lighter fluids. To help cut down on the use of cars, all regular RIPTA routes — excluding special services such as the Providence/Newport ferry service — will be free on Air Quality Alert days. DEM forecasts Air Quality Alert days, issuing Air Quality Alerts typically on the afternoon before such a day occurs.
Ground level ozone, or smog, is a major air pollution problem in Rhode Island and other northeast states. Ozone forms when emissions from power plants, factories, automobiles and other products we use every day react in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight and high temperatures.
"Rhode Islanders can help reduce air pollution by driving less, refueling after dark, conserving electricity, and by not operating outdoor power equipment when air quality is predicted to be unhealthy," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "Air pollution is a significant health concern, especially for those with asthma and other respiratory conditions. Taking these steps to reduce air pollution can make a real difference and help us all breathe a little easier."
HEALTH warns that unhealthy levels of ozone can cause throat irritation, coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, increased susceptibility to respiratory infection, and aggravation of asthma and other respiratory ailments. These symptoms are worsened by exercise and heavy activity. The elderly, children, and people who have underlying lung diseases, such as asthma, are at particular risk of suffering from these effects. As ozone levels increase, the number of people affected and the severity of the health effects also increase.
Fine particles are produced by a wide variety of natural and man-made sources, including factories, power plants, motor vehicles, fires, and windblown dust. HEALTH warns that exposure to elevated levels of fine particles can cause respiratory irritation. People with lung disease are at increased risk for aggravated symptoms of asthma and bronchitis, and increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.
When fine-particle concentrations in the ambient air are elevated, people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly, and children should limit prolonged and strenuous outdoor activity, even in the early morning hours. Unlike ozone, fine particle concentrations can be elevated throughout the day, even in the early morning hours. Individuals who experience respiratory or cardiac symptoms should consult their doctors. Particulate levels can also be elevated indoors when outdoor levels are high, although some filters and air cleaners can reduce those levels. Smoking and the use of candles, fireplaces, and wood stoves can also cause elevated indoor levels of fine particles.
RIPTA is reimbursed for bus and trolley rides on Air Quality Alert days through the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program. The RI Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration, makes these funds available for projects that reduce congestion on the highways or reduce emissions from transportation-related activities.
Air Quality Alert Days will be posted on the DEM website homepage, www.dem.ri.gov, and on the RIPTA website, www.ripta.com, under "News & Events." In addition, the alerts will also be posted on the RIDOT Transportation Management Center's overhead dynamic message signs on the afternoon before and the morning of the Air Quality Alert day.
DEM's daily air quality forecast and links to near real time ozone and particulate matter readings are available on the Department's website, www.dem.ri.gov, by clicking on "Air Quality Forecast" under "Timely Topics." When high ozone or particulate matter levels are predicted, DEM advises residents to check that page for the current air pollution levels before engaging in strenuous outdoor activities. Information about ozone, fine particles, and other air quality issues may also be obtained by calling DEM's Office of Air Resources at 401-222-2808.
For information on RIPTA bus service, schedules and fares, call 401- 781-9400, or visit ripta.com.
RI Department of Environmental Management Press Contact: Gail Mastrati 222-4700 ext. 2402