Hot Sunny Weather is Creating Ground Level Ozone Pollution in Pittsburgh
Hot weather is creating larger amounts of pollution in Pittsburgh. During these hot summer days, larger amounts of ground level ozone pollution is present. We have reached the Orange level of the Air Quality Index on four different days this year. In Pittsburgh, the average amount of orange alert days are three, but last year we had zero. The index looks at different pollutants and gives a rank based on 6 color coded categories. The air can be Code Green, Yellow, Orange, Red, Purple, and Maroon. Green means the air is practically free of pollutants and each step towards maroon means the air is worse than the previous category. Maroon means the air is hazardous.
Code Orange means the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups and the air pollution can make it harder for people with certain conditions to breathe. People with asthma struggle when the air quality is at Code Orange, so some people with the condition cannot be outside as much.
Ground level ozone is created when air pollutants mix with heat and sunlight. It can be found around power plants, factories, and running vehicles. The coronavirus pandemic is making the condition a little better since less pollutants are being added to the atmosphere from commuter traffic. Ozone is the biggest contributor to Orange level days, which occur most often in the summer since heat is required to create ozone. If there is a Code orange alert in the winter it is most likely from particulate matter.
The two highest categories, purple and maroon, are barely used. The last time they were used was 2002 when forest fires in Canada created large amounts of pollutants that drifted into the United States and affected Pennsylvania.
In addition to being contributors to ozone creation air pollutants are also carcinogens that cause many health issues including cancer. People living near power plants and coking facilities breathe in particulate matter every day leading to higher levels of asthma, bronchitis, reduced lung capacity, and early death from cancer.
If an Orange alert is given, it is best to use less air conditioning, limit driving, and wait until it is dark to refuel cars and trucks. Doing a few simple things help the air quality and the people who suffer from conditions like asthma.