Hot weather increases air pollution

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(Host) Vermont environmental officials are warning that the recent hot weather also brought unhealthy air pollution to the state. VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The hot, stagnant air mass that settled over New England this week contains high levels of harmful ozone. Harold Garabedian, of the state’s air quality division, says the pollutant forms when vehicle exhaust and other chemicals react with sunlight.

(Garabedian) “The principle components here are a class of chemicals called hydrocarbons, which do come from cars and industry, evaporation of gasoline would be an example of a hydrocarbon, and nitrogen oxides, which is a component of combustion. And that comes from cars, boilers, power plants.”

(Dillon) Ozone in the far upper layers of the atmosphere is a good thing because it helps filter ultraviolet radiation. But ground-level ozone is bad for the lungs. It aggravates asthma and other respiratory problems.

On Thursday, the ozone levels at the state’s air quality monitor in Bennington exceeded national health standards. These levels dropped by Friday, but the atmosphere still contains high amounts of fine particulates, tiny soot-like particles that are also unhealthy to breathe.

The air pollution prompted the state to advise young people, the elderly and those with heart or lung disease to avoid strenuous physical activity. Garabadian says the air quality should improve soon.

(Garabedian) “It’s a widespread event and associated with this weather system that moved in to give us this elevated temperature and stagnant condition. We think that when this system moves out and there’s a wind shift and a clearing of the atmosphere, these levels will come back down.”

(Dillon) Garabedian says the number of these unhealthy air events varies from year to year. He says that in some summers the state has experienced up to a half dozen bad air days.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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