Steamy days affecting area air quality

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Today could be one of those awful days -- one where the heat doesn't just take your breath away but it also cooks up a concoction that makes the very air you breathe poison.

The Clean Air Campaign has issued a "code orange" alert for today, the 22nd time the area's ozone level is expected to exceed standards.

This year, Atlanta's super-hot summer brought more bad air days in June than it had since 2008. In fact, there have been more bad days so far than all of 2009 and nearly as many as 2010.

Brian Carr, director of communications for the Clean Air Campaign, said the surge in smog alerts is "on par" with the region's hottest summers. Heat, he said, "cooks," the nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the air, forming ozone.

Because half of emissions in the region come from tailpipes, the group uses bad air days to promote transportation alternatives, including carpooling, taking transit or teleworking.

Walking or riding a bike to work is also a good idea for the healthy, although those days are also when sensitive groups should stay inside to avoid breathing in toxic fumes. Poor air quality has been linked not only to breathing difficulties but even to heart attacks and increased mortality.

The most vulnerable, Carr said, are children, the elderly and people with respiratory conditions -- from asthma to a bad case of bronchitis.

"Breathing is not optional, but we can (do things to combat the problem)," Carr said.

The Clean Air Campaign helps people be healthy and do what they can to keep the air clear in several ways. Alerts are sent out to more than 8,000 people via email, encouraging people to try alternative transportation on the days officials expect to be "code orange" or "code red," the most unhealthy.

Plus, the organization helps people find carpools and vanpools to join and even offers financial incentives. For more about the incentives, or to sign up for alerts, go to www.cleanaircampaign.org.