State begins daily smog forecasts, asks public to reduce driving

May 24, 1994|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun Staff Writer

The state began issuing daily air-quality forecasts for the Baltimore metropolitan area yesterday and asked the public to cut down on driving and other smog-producing activities this summer.

The Department of the Environment, which for years has reported same-day smog readings via telephone hot line, plans to issue the new one-day forecasts throughout the summer.

The air quality in the city and suburbs is expected to be good today, no threat to people's breathing or health, state officials said.

The forecasts, issued each day about 3:30 p.m. for the next day and updated every morning at 9:30, will be distributed to Baltimore news organizations and also will be available on the state hot line, 631-3247, which is updated three times daily with the latest ozone reading.

"Through this pilot project, we will be able to provide advance warning of periods when air pollution is expected to reach unhealthy levels," Environment Secretary David A. C. Carroll said in a statement.

Ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, can aggravate heart and respiratory problems and cause lung damage. Some people may become short of breath, wheeze, cough, have tightness in the chest or get headaches.

Ozone reached unhealthful levels in the area on 16 days last summer and approached those levels on 20 other days.

The metropolitan area has the nation's sixth-worst smog problem, according to federal regulators.

The new forecasts are being prepared in collaboration with meteorologists from the University of Maryland.

Certain weather conditions -- particularly temperatures in the upper 90s and lack of wind -- increase ozone concentrations.

The state will forecast air quality as good, moderate, approaching unhealthful or unhealthful.

When air quality is deemed unhealthful, the state will recommend that children, the elderly and people with heart or respiratory problems reduce outdoor activities. Even healthy people will be urged to limit strenuous outdoor exercise.

Ozone is most harmful to about 500,000 Marylanders with respiratory conditions such as asthma or emphysema, according to the American Lung Association.

Because auto emissions are a major source of compounds that form ozone, the state wants people to reduce their summer driving and keep engines tuned.

"Things like car pooling, using mass transit or walking to the convenience store will all help," said Merrylin Zaw-Mon, state director of air and radiation management.

When smog approaches unhealthful levels, the state will urge people to drive only their newest, best-maintained vehicles, to refuel them after dusk and to avoid using gasoline-powered lawn mowers.

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