Smog days expected to increase

LAWRENCEVILLE - A breath of fresh air may be harder to come by this summer.

With new regulations that lower the standards for ozone levels in the air, the number of smog days metro Atlantans see this season - which starts today - is expected to increase drastically.

Last year, there were 39 exceedances of federal air quality standards, Clean Air Campaign spokesman Brian Carr said. This year, he expects 20 more.

"We hope people do not become desensitized to this," he said. "It's going to be an issue. It takes up half the summer, right there."

In the past, the region exceeded federal standards when .084 parts per million of ground-level ozone were found in the air. Now, that number has been lowered to .075 parts per million because research shows lower levels are more harmful than was previously known.

Ground-level ozone is an unstable compound created when nitrogen oxides combine with hydrocarbons. Nitrogen oxides are created by things that burn - such as lightning, vehicles and power plants - and hydrocarbons are present in things with strong odors, such as gasoline and oil-based paints.

Carr said he hopes the expected increase in exceedances means more people become aware of the problem.

"Most drivers don't realize the impact solo, daily driving has on the environment," he said. "Small changes really do help reduce the number of smog days."

Days are rated as "good," "moderate," "unhealthy for sensitive groups," "unhealthy," "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" on a color scale that ranges from green to purple. Orange is unhealthy for sensitive groups.

During smog alert days, people are encouraged to exercise indoors and otherwise avoid spending much time outside.

Carr said he hopes checking the smog forecast will soon be akin to checking the weather for metro Atlanta residents. Last year, he said, the warnings had an 87 percent accuracy rate. Smog season ends Sept. 30.

To sign up for smog alerts or for more information on smog season, visit www.cleanaircampaign.com.