GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s a summer staple in West Michigan: Hearing the declaration of a Clean Air Action Day and the recommendations that come with it.
“There are quick and easy, simple things that you can do to make a difference for air quality,” said Andrea Faber, transportation director for the Grand Valley Metro Council — then she lists them off. “Waiting to mow your lawn, waiting until 6 p.m. to mow your lawn, put gas in your car, keeping your tires properly inflated, skip the drive-thru, park your car and go in, limit idling, avoid idling… Burn cleanly or not at all, carpool, take the bus or the Rapid and Max transit in Holland offer free bus rides.”
The call comes when it is determined that there will likely be an increase in the number of pollutant particulates in the air higher than 70 parts per billion, which can trigger asthma in some people and have an impact on the air quality.
“Any time you’re pumping anything into the atmosphere, there is that chance of a long-term impact no matter how slight,” said Ellen Bacca, 24 Hour News 8 meteorologist.
The vast majority of scientists believe these man-made chemicals have an impact in terms of changing climate.
“Pollutants do have a long-term impact,” Bacca said.
The decision to declare a Clean Air Action Day is made by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
“Clean air action days is just a forecast saying these are the locations that will likely have high ozone today,” Bacca said
After the forecast, the scientists do actual measurements of the particulates in the air to see what happened.
24 Hour News 8 looked at the Michigan DEQ measurements from this year and found that in many cases, Grand Rapids did not hit that 70 parts per billion measurement, while Holland and Muskegon was often much higher.
The air comes over the lake from Gary, Chicago and elsewhere and as it travels over the lake, the sun heats it up and causes a photochemical reaction that creates more ozone in the air.
“It’s kind of like a double-bake oven, so those pollutants up over the lake get a double shot of solar radiation once passing through and again when it passes through on reflection,” said James Haywood, senior meteorologist, DEQ Modeling and Meteorology Unit.
A southwest wind means the air often hits the lakeshore with its highest concentration of pollution.
“Holland and Muskegon seems to be really the bullseye of where those things tend to hit,” Haywood said.
The scientists say the particulate count may drop as the air travels and the amount of sunlight decreases. But there is also the yet unproven possibility that people are getting the message.
“We have a lot of people who are participating on at least some of those days, think of all the emissions, that’s a lot of cars that aren’t on the road, people taking the bus that’s all stuff that’s not going into the air,” Faber said.
Of course, there is no real way to measure whether people waiting to cut their lawns or top off the tank is making a difference, but the Grand Valley Metro Council has done surveys that show that 90 percent of people know about and some 70 percent participate at least some of the time.
“I would hope that that would be the case, that people are listening and are taking action, maybe it’s keeping things below that threshold,” Bacca said.