Don't be fooled just because you can't see smog. Greater Kansas City's air can be unhealthy. Ozone refers to a molecule of three oxygen atoms bound together (O3). It is unstable and highly reactive. Our atmosphere is made up of two kinds of ozone
- GOOD: the ozone layer high above the Earth protects us from the sun's ultraviolet radiation ("Stratospheric ozone").
- BAD: ground-level ozone, also known as ozone pollution or smog ("Tropospheric ozone").
Ozone pollution is harmful to everyone, especially to people with respiratory problems such as asthma. Children are also at high risk when the ozone level reaches "Alert" status. Ground-level ozone makes it difficult for our lungs to absorb oxygen, making us cough.
Although ozone pollution is formed mainly in urban and suburban areas, it ends up in rural areas as well, carried by prevailing winds or resulting from cars and trucks that travel into rural areas. Significant levels of ozone pollution can be detected in rural areas as far as 250 miles (402 kilometers) downwind from urban industrial zones.
Bad ozone, or ground-level ozone, is more than a dirty-looking pollution cloud (often referred to as "smog") on the horizon. It forms when emissions from vehicles, lawnmowers, power plants, and industry react with heat and sunlight. Automobile exhaust and industrial emissions release a family of nitrogen oxide gas (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC), by-products of burning gasoline and coal. NOx and VOC combine chemically with oxygen to form ozone during sunny, high-temperature conditions of late spring, summer, and early fall. High levels of ozone are usually formed in the heat of the afternoon and early evening, dissipating during the cooler nights. More than 50% of all ozone pollution is caused by everyday people doing everyday things.
What time of day you fill your car, how often you drive your car for errands, and when you mow your lawn all impact air quality.
For health reasons, the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") places limits on how much ground-level ozone our air can contain. In March 2008, the EPA changed the national ground-level ozone standards to better protect public health and is looking at completing another round by the end of 2011.
There are ozone monitors across our region that measure exactly how much ozone pollution our air contains. There are three ways to access up-to-date information about how much ozone is in our air:
- SkyCast: shows the next day's predicted ozone pollution concentrations.
- Air Quality Index: shows current and yesterday's ozone pollution concentrations.
- Ozone summaries: detailed reports reviewing data from ozone monitors across the region since the beginning of the ozone season (April 1).
Each of Us Can Make a Difference
You have the power to help clear the air because more than half of our ozone pollution forms as a result of everyday people doing everyday things, like driving, working in the yard, and grilling.
Thousands of Kansas City-area residents are already helping reduce air pollution by taking small actions that can save money and time. And most importantly, they're helping everyone in our region breathe a little easier. You can, too.
MARC AirQ Workplace Partnership
Clay County, Missouri government is a proud member of the Mid-America Regional Council of Governments (MARC) Air Quality (AirQ) Workplace Partnership program. The designated Air Quality Coordinator for Clay County is the Director of the Planning and Zoning Department, Email Planing and Zoning Department Director or call 816-407-3380.
As a part of MARC AirQ, Clay County receives the following benefits:
- Ozone Alert Notifications
When a high concentration of ozone is forecast, your employees will be able to protect their health and take action to reduce pollution.
Clay County includes Ozone Alerts and SkyCast on our main front webpage.
- Air-Pollution Reduction Tips by Email
Learn how to properly dispose of household hazardous waste, find a carpool partner, manage fleets more efficiently, and much more.
- Fun Contests and Awards Programs
Participate in contests and nominate employees for awards for their efforts to improve air quality.
Green Commute Challenge
This metro-wide contest encourages commuters to drive less during ozone season by providing points and prizes for carpooling, riding the bus, bicycling, walking, and telecommuting.
- Access to Free Workshops, Seminars, and Consultations
How can your company lower costs by reducing its impact on air quality? Is funding available to help you offset emissions-reducing actions? Whether your employees want to know how they're affected by ozone pollution, or whether you need assistance developing a clean air plan for your company, AirQ staff will assist you in achieving your goals.
Emissions Clinics and Gas-cap Testing Sites
- Emissions clinics include a brief courtesy inspection and a test of your vehicle's tailpipe emissions. Tests take less than 15 minutes.
- Gas cap testing uses a device to determine if your vehicle's gas cap is adequately sealed. Tests take less than 30 seconds.
- Air Quality Awareness Materials
The partnership provides free print and electronic materials that inform employees about air quality issues.
AirQ Workplace Partnership 2011 Certificate of Appreciation (PDF)
Education / Information
Increasing the tree canopy in urbanized areas is one way to fight both poor air quality and urban heat islands. Research shows significant short-term improvements in air quality in urban areas with 100% tree cover. Under this scenario, trees can reduce hourly ozone by up to 15%, sulfur dioxide by 14%, and particulate matter by 13%.
U.S. trees remove some 784,000 tons of pollution annually, providing $3.8 billion in value. Furthermore, a single large healthy tree can remove greater than 300 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. Through their leaves, trees also provide evaporative cooling, which increases air humidity. Shaded surfaces maybe 20-45 degrees cooler, and evapotranspiration can reduce peak summer temperatures by 2-9 degrees. (Source: "Heat Island Mitigation: Trees and Vegetation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) and "Sustaining America's Trees and Forests," David J. Nowak, Susan M. Stein, Paula B. Randler, Eric J. Greenfield, Sara J. Comas, Mary A. Carr, and Ralph J. Alig, U.S. Forest Service).
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) have produced an informative video on urban forests and their benefits to urbanized areas: