On April 18, the American Lung Association (ALA) released its 19th annual “State of the Air Report” to inform residents about the ozone and pollution levels in their state or city. Tolland County, the county where the University of Connecticut is located, was given an F rating for ozone, according to the ALA website; data was not collected for particle pollution in this area.
Grading is done using scores A-F. This is decided using a weighted average, taking into account the number of days a year that a region experiences a dangerous ozone level which is measured in parts per billion (ppb), environmental compliance analyst in the UConn Office of Environmental Policy Jennifer Williams said.
Williams said that despite the low grade, Tolland county is still doing much better than other regions in our state.
“If you look at the data in the “State of the Air Report” for other counties in Connecticut, Tolland County isn’t so bad,” Williams said. “New Haven County’s weighted average is almost twice as high as Tolland County’s and Fairfield County’s, being close to New York City, is more than 3.5 times as high as Tolland County’s.”
Williams said an F ozone grade does not automatically mean the county or region is in any danger. She also said warnings are particularly important for people with health problems who are put at risk when ozone levels get higher in the summer months.
“It is important to understand also that Tolland County being assigned an F ozone grade in the “State of the Air Report” does not mean that every single day we are breathing in ground-level ozone at dangerous levels,” Williams said. “We are not. What it does mean is that on average we have a problem with higher ozone days in the summer months that factor in to give us the F grade. Those are the days when you will hear the weather forecasters on television warn people with asthma, emphysema, COPD, etc., to remain indoors during the afternoon hours for their own protection.”
Over the last 30 years, Connecticut has decreased its number of days over the ozone limit from 100 to around 20, Williams said. She added, however, that efforts made in Connecticut alone will only do so much as much of the pollution is from heavily populated areas like New York City in surrounding states.
“Due to prevailing wind patterns causing interstate atmospheric transport of pollutants, upwind states are responsible for much of our ground-level ozone problem in Connecticut,” Williams said. “These upwind states are states to [the] southwest and west of us. Our efforts of the past 30 years have helped tremendously, though, so we should not be discouraged. Over time, every positive choice, every small positive change will make a big difference.”
Williams said much of the energy in the U.S. comes from burning fossil fuels which produces particulate matter and compounds that contribute to ozone formation. She suggests making simple, daily changes to reduce one’s impact on the environment.
“Turn off the light when you walk out of a room,” Williams said. Take a cooler shower. Use resources wisely – conserve, reuse whatever you can and recycle whatever can be recycled. Explore alternatives to single-rider transportation – take the bus, ride a bicycle, carpool, walk. Give that no-longer-wanted item away instead of throwing it away. Use fewer disposable goods. Anything you can personally do to reduce your own carbon footprint, added to the efforts of others, will have a positive impact.”
UConn partners with Eversource, the local energy provider, to work toward energy conservation on campus, Williams said. The partnership includes updating building practices and replacing current light bulbs with energy efficient alternatives.
“This program includes ‘retrocommissioning’ for buildings on campus, which is a systematic process for improving operational and maintenance practices to ensure optimum performance in a building’s utility systems,” Williams said. “Another part of the Eversource partnership program is an ongoing re-lamping effort, replacing higher-energy using lighting installations with LED lighting. LED lighting is 50 percent more efficient than fluorescent bulbs and many times more efficient than halogen and metal halide bulbs, which are used on campus.”
Along with the Eversource partnership, UConn takes internal measures to promote clean energy, Williams said. A fuel cell at Depot Campus supplies energy for the campus and groups like the Office of Environmental Policy and EcoHusky host initiatives and events on campus to reduce energy consumption and get students involved in working toward the goal.
“Each year in October, OEP hosts an EcoMadness competition, which is a month-long water and energy conservation initiative in UConn’s residence halls,” Williams said. The winning dormitory in each of four competition categories receives a free ice cream party featuring UConn Dairy Bar ice cream. This competition has shown amazing results, reducing energy and water consumption in some residence halls by as much as 35 percent! However, the most important aspect of the contest is the awareness it brings to the students about the impact each one of them can have on the ‘big picture’ when it comes to energy conservation.”
Other air quality reports which are updated in real-time are online and available through the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Federal Environmental Protection agency, Williams said.
Miranda Garcia is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.