HOUSTON - Why does our weather always seem to come at a cost? It seems every time drought-busting rain comes our way, so too does flooding. If it's the colder winter weather we'll finally get to enjoy, we find ourselves worried about a freeze. While I can't answer nature's big-picture questions, I can offer this: due to bright, beautiful sunshine tomorrow with high pressure overhead, we'll see high levels of the respiratory irritant agent, "ozone." The cost for a beautiful day in Houston? Coughing!
Fortunately, it's our choice to pump exhaust from cars and industry into the atmosphere tomorrow, forming ground-level ozone because it only forms when the sun's rays inundate various pollutants, breaking the gasses into elemental parts. (That said, the vast, vast, vast majority of us will not change our driving or industrial production habits tomorrow, so prepare for particularly dirty air. This may be at no fault to the pollutant contributor, but simply part of their job. Hey, we all have to get to work, including me.)
Ozone is the name given when three atoms of oxygen (chemical symbol, "O") join together to make O3. Typically oxygen exists in the more familiar O2 form. It's a diatomic atom, so it's unstable as a single atom and needs a friend, thus the prefix, "di". Once it latches onto an another atom, it loses its wondering eyes and enjoys a steady relationship. Unfortunately strong summer sunshine can break-up coupled oxygen molecules, creating single-atoms of O1 gas floating around, looking for love. Sometimes they find it in the wrong places, latching onto a host of greenhouse gasses and/or corrosive airborne chemicals. When it becomes the third wheel to another coupled oxygen molecule, it becomes a toxic relationship -- at least to humans. Either way, three's company and when O2 becomes O3, it can make you cough and if you've got chronic lung issues, can lead to fits or COPD/asthma attacks in high enough doses.
Some ask why ozone is considered toxic at the ground, while when it's high up in the sky, it's beneficial by blocking harmful UV rays. The properties of O3 are such where they do provide deflection ... but at a cost. (See the theme here?) Thankfully, the O3 (we love) in the stratosphere floats much higher than in the air we breathe.
Remember when I said, earlier, that we can decide consciously to contribute to the problem? Unfortunately that only applies in theory. Sure we can try to car pool, but halting local industrial emissions and stopping all ocean barges from motoring through the Ship Channel would effectively shut down the city-region's economy. As for cost/benefit, I believe I can state fact in suggesting we value the dollar more than we value clean air. (Hey, we got to pay the bills! But, I'm talking big picture with that last statement.) So, we're stuck between a oxygen atom and a hard place.
That said: Here's the full text of the official warning.
...OZONE ACTION DAY FOR FRIDAY... THE TEXAS COMMISSION ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY (TCEQ)...HAS ISSUED AN OZONE ACTION DAY FOR THE HOUSTON...GALVESTON...AND BRAZORIA AREAS FOR FRIDAY JUNE 9 2017. ATMOSPHERIC CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED TO BE FAVORABLE FOR PRODUCING HIGH LEVELS OF OZONE POLLUTION IN THE HOUSTON...GALVESTON AND SURROUNDING AREAS ON FRIDAY. YOU CAN HELP PREVENT OZONE POLLUTION BY SHARING A RIDE...WALKING...RIDING A BICYCLE...TAKING YOUR LUNCH TO WORK...AVOIDING DRIVE THROUGH LANES...CONSERVING ENERGY AND KEEPING YOUR VEHICLE PROPERLY TUNED. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON OZONE: OZONE: THE FACTS (WWW.TCEQ.TEXAS.GOV/AIRQUALITY/MONOPS/OZONEFACTS.HTML) EPA AIR NOW: (WWW.AIRNOW.GOV/INDEX.CFM?ACTION=AIRNOW.LOCAL_CITY&CITYID=236) TAKE CARE OF TEXAS: (WWW.TAKECAREOFTEXAS.ORG/AIR/AIRQUALITY)
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