Spare the Air: Seattle Smog Watch in Effect

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(Editor's note: The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency canceled the Smog Watch for King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties on Aug. 7, 2008. Onshore winds are dispersing the air pollution, allowing the Agency to cancel the watch and raise the local air quality level to "good.")

In addition to the hot, hot heat we’ll experience today and tomorrow, Seattleites will also see and feel one of its side effects: smog. The combination of smoke and fog creates this fine particle air pollution that is dangerous mostly to young children, the elderly and people with asthma or other respiratory-related issues.

Puget Sound Clean Air Agency released a notice yesterday announcing that a Smog Watch has been called into effect for King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

The Agency explains that Seattle is under the Smog Watch because hot air is moving into our region from the south, bringing a temperature inversion along with it, which traps air pollution and impacts air quality.

Smog builds when summertime sunlight "cooks" everyday emissions from motor vehicles, industry, paints, solvents and gasoline fumes. When the pollutants react with the summertime sunlight, they form ground-level ozone, the main component in smog.

Yesterday the rural areas of King and Piece counties downwind of Seattle-Tacoma experienced “moderate” air quality, but today the quality is expected to fall to “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” People in urban areas can expect to experience moderate air quality through Wednesday evening.

In addition to being a health hazard, smog clouds our picturesque view of the mountains and damages trees, lichen and moss in the Pacific Northwest forests. According to the Agency, smog can also be damaging to our economy.

If we exceed the federal health standard for ozone, a pollutant in smog, more than three times in three years, we will not be able to maintain our status as a "'clean air region" and be stigmatized for having dirty air. If this were to happen, we would have expensive new regulatory requirements, new businesses may not want to come to the region, and existing businesses would face tougher requirements for expansion.

The number one thing you can do to help is to stop using fossil fuels -- in your car, your mower, your boat or anything else that burns oil. But if you have to power up with gas, take a look at these tips from Puget Sound Clean Air:

* Drive less – and bus, bike, walk, or carpool more. Cars and trucks typically produce more than 700,000 pounds of smog-forming pollutants on a summer day in Puget Sound region.
* Stash the gas mower. Reducing use of gasoline powered yard equipment, or opting for electric or manually powered devices instead, helps keep smog levels down.
*Try pollution-free water recreation. Motor boats produce about 85,000 pounds of smog-forming pollutants each summer day in the Puget Sound region – try sailing, canoeing or kayaking instead.
* Quit idling around. Idling for longer than 30 seconds actually burns more fuel than turning off and restarting your engine. Turn off your engine instead. You’ll save money too!
*Refuel when it’s cool. Refueling your vehicles in cooler evening hours reduces the opportunity for Volatile Organic Compounds released by gasoline to turn into ozone.

To learn more about smog and what you can to lessen the pollution leading up to it, click here.