Thick as Air / Small ways you can fight the big problem of pollution in North Texas

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Lisa Poisso
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ŠiStock.com/Tanor
PUBLISHED
April 2015 in
DallasChild, FortWorthChild, NorthTexasChild
UPDATED
March 30, 2015
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When Wendy Smith and her family moved to Dallas from Surrey, England, in 2001, respiratory issues weren’t on their radar. Yet Smith, her husband and her son sniffled and snorted their way through thick, seasonal mucous their first few years stateside. It was probably allergens, Smith surmises — that and poor air quality.  
 
“We live in a very dense area,” says the North Dallas mom. “The air quality with the heat is thick.” 
 
For the Smiths, the change brought challenges for lungs that were used to the bracing British country air. During the years just before the family moved here, Dallas-Fort Worth experienced some of the ugliest ozone levels in the nation. Fortunately, levels have been ticking downward since then, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.  
  
The most worrisome air-quality culprit is ground-level ozone, formed when pollutants bake under the North Texas sun. Cars and traffic are the major cause of North Texas ozone woes, says Whitney Vandiver of Air North Texas at the Arlington-based North Central Texas Council of Governments. Exposure to high ozone levels, especially during exertion with deep breathing, can cause shortness of breath, chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, phlegm, headaches, nausea, and eye and throat irritation. People with lung or heart disease are especially at risk. 
  
Experts say the best way to avoid health problems is to steer clear of outdoor activity on high ozone days. Follow the color-coded Air Quality Index, which tells you how polluted the air is and how likely it is to affect you and your family. For Smith’s 12-year-old daughter, a volleyball enthusiast, bad ozone days mean no outdoor recess or activities at her school, which is located on a major cross street near a highway with a constant stream of heavy traffic. The Smiths follow advisories for high ozone days at home, too: “We stay in; we don’t even walk the dog,” Smith reveals. 
 
Area schools follow varying policies about outdoor activity when heat and ozone levels are high. The Dallas Independent School District advises parents that high-level ozone days could pose problems for students with allergies, asthma, diabetes and cardiovascular problems; outdoor activities should therefore be limited. Other school districts, such as Denton Independent School District and Burleson Independent School District, call for different activity guidelines for at-risk children and healthy children based on ozone alert levels. 
 
Dr. Rebecca Gruchalla, director of the division of allergy and immunology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, urges parents to follow the lead of their child’s school for outdoor activity on bad ozone days. She calls overcautious activity restrictions a “psychological downer” and urges the parents of sensitive children to consult their doctors and take precautions, such as premedication, whenever possible to keep kids happy and active. 
 
But families can do more than merely hide indoors from poor air quality until it passes. “The things that we encourage people to do through Air North Texas are anything where you’re reducing driving alone in a traditional vehicle: carpooling, taking public transit, biking or walking on your short trips,” Vandiver says. Easier said than done in sprawling Dallas-Fort Worth. If trading in the family SUV for a bus pass isn’t in the cards for your brood, there are still ways you can reduce your carbon footprint and make a difference in the fight against pollution.    

Published April 2015
SIDEBAR

16 Ways You Can Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

In Your Diet 
 
1. Adopt Meatless Mondays 
Studies by the United Nations Environment Programme show that raising livestock is a significant contributor to climate change. By reducing the amount of meat you eat, you can directly contribute to a healthier planet. 
 
2. Buy Organic 
As if we needed another reason to go organic, we now know that chemicals used in the production of much our food pollute the water supply and require significant energy to produce. 
  
3. Ditch Disposable Water Bottles 
Each year more than 15 million barrels of crude oil are used to produce water bottles — in the U.S. alone — and that’s before energy is expended on transportation. Just say no to bottled water and invest in a water filter for the home, as well as a BPA-free, reusable bottle for when you’re on the go.  
 
4. Eat Local 
Food you buy at the supermarket likely traveled via plane from the other side of the world, burning fossil fuels the entire trip. Shop at local farmers markets to find fresh and healthy food, while simultaneously helping save our climate and supporting our local economy.  
 
In Your Car 
 
5. Coast and Cruise 
Drive smart by taking it easy on the brakes and gas pedal, avoiding hard accelerations and reducing your time spent idling to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  
 
6. Drive a Clean Machine  
If your vehicle is more than 10 years old or has failed an emissions test, you might qualify for $3,500 toward replacing your vehicle. It’s time for an upgrade anyway, right? tceq.texas.gov  
 
7. Inflate Your Tires 
Cars get better gas mileage when tires are fully inflated, burning less gas and emitting less carbon dioxide. Check your automobile monthly to ensure that the tires are fully inflated. Follow this tip and save 300 pounds of carbon dioxide for every 10,000 miles you drive. 
 
8. Think Alternative 
Considering an alternative-fuel vehicle? Apply for a Texas Emissions Reduction Plan grant through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for refunds and incentives.  
tceq.texas.gov 
 
In Your Home 
 
9. Go Low Flow 
Invest in a low-flow shower head to reduce your hot water consumption and energy use. If you shower every day, this small change can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 350 pounds a year.   
 
10. See the Light 
Invest in LED light bulbs. These energy-efficient bulbs help fight climate change by reducing the amount of fossil fuels that utilities burn; they use only a fraction of electricity that incandescent bulbs use. Replace your five most frequently used lights with Energy Star-certified products to save $70 a year on energy bills while helping the environment.  
 
11. Turn Down the Heat 
In the United States, heating and air conditioning draw more than half the energy that a home uses. Adjust the heat or air conditioning by just two degrees when you leave the house or go to bed to save money and reduce carbon emissions. 
 
12. Wash on Cold 
Washing your clothes in cold water can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 500 pounds a year. Who would have thought? 
 
In Your Community 
 
13. Frack Off 
Get involved in monitoring fracking activity and working to reduce its impact on air quality in the Barnett Shale geological area around Dallas-Fort Worth.  
tceq.texas.gov
 
14. Help Shape Local Policy  
Connect with local environmental issues and help influence policy and industry leaders on matters such as the recent ozone hearing in Arlington.  
edf.org 
 
15. Reduce School Bus Emissions 
Support the Texas Clean School Bus program to reduce diesel emissions from school buses. 
tceq.texas.gov 
 
16. Report Smoking Vehicles  
When you see a vehicle putting out dirty exhaust smoke for more than 10 consecutive seconds, write down the license number, date, time and city (anywhere in Texas) and report it within 30 days. 
800/453-7664; tceq.state.tx.us


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