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Back to school means more smog

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The start of the school year marks more than the return to classes for students.

"With the start of school comes extra traffic and congestion," said Kevin Green, the executive director of the Atlanta-based Clean Air Campaign. "When you add sweltering temperatures, you're going to get air quality challenges."

Half of smog-forming emissions come from tailpipes, Green said. On a day like Tuesday -- with air quality predicted to be unhealthy for sensitive groups -- more vehicles on the roadway exacerbates the problem.

So far this year, there have been 12 smog violations, where the measured ozone concentrations exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. (It will take a day or two to determine if a smog violation occurred on Tuesday, Green said.)

On smog alert days -- those that predict a violation based on temperature and other factors -- Green said the Clean Air Campaign wants people to do two things: reduce their exposure to the unhealthy air, particularly if they are sensitive to it, and reduce their contribution to it by carpooling, fueling vehicles after 6 p.m. and turning off their engines instead of idling.

Many schools in Gwinnett County make an effort to reduce emissions on their campuses, Green said. In fact, Gwinnett County Public Schools had the second highest participation rate among all districts participating in the Clean Air Schools program last year, with 39 percent participation.

Last year, two Gwinnett County schools were among the top five "No-Idling Schools," Green said. Gwin Oaks Elementary was No. 1, and Snellville Middle was No. 5. At the middle school, students conducted a survey for two hours each day across their campus of 2,500 students. They spread the "No Idling" message via the Internet and paper fliers, but the word of mouth proved to be the biggest influencer, causing drivers to stop idling their vehicles and producing a 95 percent idling reduction.

Green said now is the time for schools to sign up or re-enroll in the 2010-11 Clean Air Schools program.

He encouraged schools to participate because children are particularly vulnerable to unhealthy air. Smog violations can also sicken children with asthma. Half a million school days were missed last year in Georgia because of asthma, he said.

For more information about the Clean Air Campaign, visit www.cleanaircampaign.org.