For many in Illinois, May is the true beginning of spring. The trees are unfurling new leaves and everything around us seems to sprout and bloom. But as the days lengthen and the temperatures rise, air pollution also becomes a bigger problem. In the hope of educating citizens about the dangers of smog and how we can help control it, Governor Pat Quinn has declared May Air Pollution Awareness Month.
Air pollution comes from a variety of sources, both natural (like volcanic ash) and manmade (like smog) with pollutants typically falling into one of two categories. Primary pollutants are formed and then released into the air, while secondary pollutants are created by reactions between chemicals already lingering in the atmosphere. Among the worst pollutants we face today are sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides, both of which come from the combustion of petroleum products and other industrial processes. Carbon monoxide, a major component of vehicle exhaust is also a big problem, as are particulates (little bits of airborne dirt and grime) and ground level ozone, a secondary pollutant that has become a major contributor to smog.
And indoor air isn't much cleaner. Today's high-efficiency homes tend to have less ventilation which can cause pollutants to become trapped inside. Chemicals used in the manufacture of carpet, plywood and some insulations also release dangerous fumes such as formaldehyde, and freshly painted walls give off volatile organic compounds as they dry. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 2.4 million people die from air pollution each year; more than half of those deaths are attributable to indoor pollutants.
So what can we do? Partners for Clean Air
, a Chicago-area non-profit dedicated to cutting pollution in the state, suggests a few simple steps:
- Take public transportation, walk or bike. If you must drive, consolidate your trips (don't take two when one will do). Consider saving longer trips for the evening hours, and never let your car idle for more than a few minutes.
- Turn off and unplug your electronics when not in use.
- Don't burn leaves and yard waste — try composting instead.
- Use a charcoal chimney with your grill instead of lighter fluid. It's safer and better for the environment.
- Decrease indoor pollution by using natural cleaning products. Consider greener building materials next time you add-on or remodel.
Also, check your local news for air pollution advisories and the air pollution forecast. Changes in weather or emission levels can affect the pollution in your area, and this may have real consequences for people with asthma or other respiratory conditions. This is especially important for those living in urban areas, such as Chicago, which do not meet federal air quality standards.
Let May be your month to make a difference in air quality. By taking a few simple steps, we can help cut down on air pollution in our state and give everyone room to breathe.