Nothing says “Welcome, winter” like the haze of air pollution lingering on the valley floor.
According to the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report, almost 4 out of 10 Americans “live in counties with unhealthful levels or either ozone or particle pollution.”
What air pollution is
Air pollution is the presence of pollutants in the air at levels that pose a health risk. Here’s a quick rundown of two of the most common air pollutants:
Particulate matter, or PM, is comprised of small dust and soot particles. It’s produced when we burn fuels like coal, wood or oil. Truthfully, particle pollution is just plain gross. Remember Trinity Church in downtown New York City? 200 years’ worth of soot and pollution had turned the church black until it was cleaned and its stone walls returned to the original light pink color.
In the upper part of the atmosphere, naturally occurring ozone shields the Earth from some of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. But when it’s on the ground, ozone is a main element of smog and can cause major health problems. Ground-level ozone can damage crops and forests, as well.
Ground-level ozone includes two major components: volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). VOCs are released into the air by cars burning gasoline, petroleum refineries, and various industrial facilities. Nitrogen oxides occur when cars, power plants and industrial boilers burn fuels like gasoline, coal or oil, producing that reddish-brown color you sometimes see when it’s smoggy outside.
Why air pollution matters
We are facing a health crisis caused by air pollution; even healthy people can be affected by it.
PM is especially concerning because very small particles can get deep into the lungs, causing increased ER trips and hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses. People with pre-existing heart or lung disease are even more susceptible to health problems associated with particle pollution.
Because it is such a strong irritant, ground-level ozone can constrict the airways, making the respiratory system have to work harder to provide oxygen. Recurring ozone exposure makes people more vulnerable to respiratory infections and lung inflammation and exacerbates pre-existing conditions like asthma.
Air pollution is costing us money, too. Inversions and bad air quality can impact employees’ wellbeing and decrease productivity and retention, leading to lost revenue. According to the World Bank, global costs associated with air pollution total over $5 trillion annually.
What we can do about air pollution
The data is pretty bleak. So, what do we do to fix it? At Auric Solar, we firmly believe that small, individual actions have lasting impacts. Here are some things you can do right now to help improve our air quality.
Bottom line? Drive less. Combine trips and carpool. If you can, use public transit. When you drive, make sure you’re not hauling unnecessary weight around that will eat up your gas mileage. If you’re looking for a new car, look at energy efficiency, whether electric, hybrid, or better gas mileage.
Take care of your car
Much like you go to the doctor for an annual checkup, you should make sure your car gets regular checkups, too. That will help your car last longer and consume fuel more efficiently. Also, make sure your tires are properly inflated and aligned. According to this TEDx talk, that will save more fuel than you’d expect!
You had to know this one was coming; we’re all about solar at Auric. In addition to saving you money, solar also helps you mitigate your carbon footprint. Instead of using electricity produced by burning fossil fuels, which emit harmful gases into the air and are finite, solar lets you have your own personal power plant that supplies you with clean energy.
Use natural gas
Ditch the charcoal when it comes to grilling. Use propane or natural gas grills to avoid putting more fossil fuels in the air.
Avoid plastic bags
Plastic bags are made from oil products (which will emit harmful gases) and will take eons to decompose (some of them actually never will). When you can, bring your own cloth shopping bags to the grocery store. Reuse paper bags; they’re made from recycled products.
Temper the temperatures
Use the AC and heater when you need to, but consider using them a little less when the temperature is moderately different than what makes you comfortable. When it’s just a little warm outside, consider using a fan instead of air conditioning, which will use a lot less power. When it’s a little chilly, put on a blanket or extra layers instead of running your heater.
Together, we can do a lot to improve the air quality, including switching to solar power. Get started today with a free energy consultation to see what solar power can do for you.