DHEC to provide daily ground-level ozone forecasts beginning April 1

Exposure to high concentrations of ground-level ozone can impact people's health


COLUMBIA - Each year from April 1 through Sept. 30, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) provides a daily forecast for ground-level ozone concentrations across the state. These forecasts can help South Carolinians take precautions for days with expected increases in ozone concentrations.

Ozone is a colorless gas that is considered a secondary pollutant, meaning it's formed through complex chemical reactions of molecules in the air. While ozone high up in the atmosphere protects people and the environment from harmful ultraviolet rays, exposure to high concentrations of ground-level ozone can be harmful to people who are sensitive to ozone pollution, especially children, elderly people and those with breathing problems like asthma.

"High ozone concentrations generally occur on hot, sunny days in the spring and summer when the air is stagnant and the sun's rays shine more directly on the Earth's surface," said Rhonda Thompson, chief of DHEC's Bureau of Air Quality. "We issue our daily ozone forecasts to help South Carolinians make healthy decisions about outdoor activities during the summer when we feel the most impacts from ozone."

There are two main ways to receive the daily ozone and air quality forecast:

- Visit scdhec.gov/ozone and click on the links to DHEC's ozone forecast page or links to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) AirNow.gov online resource; or

- Sign up for ozone and other air quality emails or texts using the EPA's free EnviroFlash service at enviroflash.info.

DHEC reports its air-quality monitoring data to the EPA, and that information is displayed at the ZIP-code level for all of South Carolina through AirNow.gov. The data is updated nearly every hour. The EPA's AirNow program also offers a free mobile app for quickly checking current and forecast air quality information.

On days with elevated ozone forecasts, it's recommended for people to reduce their ozone exposure by:

- Schools modifying plans for outdoor activities such as recess, lunch and physical education classes;

- People planning outdoor activities when ozone levels are lower, usually in the morning or evening; and

- Those involved in outdoor exercise or activities requiring heavy exertion to cut back on the level and duration of the activity.

"During our ozone forecasting season, we also like to remind South Carolinians of the ways they can help reduce ozone pollution," said Greg Quina, air quality modeling section manager with DHEC's Bureau of Air Quality. "Mobile sources of air pollution such as cars, trucks and lawn equipment contribute to more than half of South Carolina's ozone levels, so being mindful of engine use during hot summer days can be a help."

People can reduce ozone pollution by:

- Driving less by carpooling, walking or riding a bike, or using public transportation;

- Reducing idling by turning off vehicle engines if you're expected to be stopped for more than 30 seconds (except in traffic);

- Keeping to the speed limit, which saves on gas and reduces emissions; and

- Keeping vehicles mechanically tuned up and tires properly inflated, as both help save gasoline and improve air quality.

To learn more about ground-level ozone pollution and for links to accessing South Carolina air quality data, visit scdhec.gov/ozone. Sign up for air quality alerts at enviroflash.info.