An Ozone Air Quality Advisory has been issued today for the New York City metro-area and Long Island.

The advisory applies to the five boroughs, Westchester and Rockland counties, and Long Island, including Nassau and Suffolk counties. Ozone is a powerful oxidant that can cause muscles in the airways to constrict, and make breathing more difficult.

The alert has been issued by the New York State departments of Health and Environmental Conservation, and is in effect today until 11 p.m.

It is the seventh such advisory issued this month, and (according to our count) the 14th advisory since the beginning of May.

Ozone Is A Public Health Issue

Ozone is considered to be a “dangerous” ground-level air pollutant. The New York City-metro area, like many other U.S. urban areas, is currently in “non-attainment” of 2008 federal ozone standards.

[The pollutant ozone is distinct from the protective layer of ozone in the upper atmosphere. Ozone pollution is caused by auto exhaust and larger pollution sources, such as power plants burning fossil fuels. Ozone levels are also directly tied to higher temperatures.]

The New York City Department of Health (DOH) reports that ozone exposure causes “more than 400 premature deaths, 850 hospitalizations for asthma and 4,500 emergency department visits for asthma annually.”

Roughly 1 in 10 emergency room visits for asthma in the city are attributable to ozone pollution. “Ozone levels are one of the most serious air pollutants in New York City,” a spokesman for the DOH told this reporter in a 2014 interview.

Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx have all received “F’s” for their number of high ozone days between 2012 and 2014, according to the most recent analysis by the American Lung Association.

Data on ozone pollution in Brooklyn was not available.

Hard To Control

Unlike other air pollutants, ozone is not directly emitted by pollution sources — it is formed in the air during smog conditions.

High temperatures (over 80°F) and sunlight react with emissions from vehicles and smokestacks to form ozone. Hydrocarbons such as gasoline vapors and nitrogen dioxide – what the state calls “ozone precursors”- can help to trigger the gas.

According to the state, automobile exhaust and out-of-state emission sources (such as power plants) are the primary sources of ground‑level ozone.

New York City has made major progress in reducing levels of other air pollutants, such as fine particulate matter. Cutting ozone levels, especially because they are partially caused by out-of-state pollution sources, remains a huge challenge.

Take precautions- especially when ozone levels peak

Young children, those who exercise outdoors, those who work outside, and/or persons with respiratory disease (such as asthma) are being asked to consider limiting strenuous outdoor physical activity when ozone levels are the highest (generally afternoon to early evening).

When outdoor levels of ozone are elevated, going indoors will usually reduce your exposure. Individuals experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain or coughing should consider consulting their doctor, say state officials.

Ozone levels generally decrease at night. They can be minimized during daylight hours by the reduction of pollution from cars and other vehicles, for instance.

New Yorkers can help reduce ozone levels by using mass transit and conserving energy

State regulators are urging New Yorkers to:

  • use mass transit or carpool instead of driving, as automobile emissions account for about 60 percent of pollution in our cities;
  • conserve fuel and reduce exhaust emissions by combining necessary motor vehicle trips;
  • turn off all lights and electrical appliances in unoccupied areas;
  • use fans to circulate air. If air conditioning is necessary, set thermostats at 78 degrees;
  • close the blinds and shades to limit heat build-up and to preserve cooled air;
  • limit use of household appliances. If necessary, run appliances at off-peak (after 7 p.m.) hours. This includes dishwashers, dryers, pool pumps and water heaters;
  • set refrigerators and freezers at more efficient temperatures;
  • purchase and install energy efficient lighting and appliances with the Energy Star label; and
  • reduce or eliminate outdoor burning and attempt to minimize indoor sources of PM 2.5 [fine particulate matter pollution] such as smoking.

More helpful info from state regulators

The State issues Air Quality Health Advisories when Department of Environmental Conservation meteorologists predict levels of pollution, either ozone or fine particulate matter, which “are expected to exceed an Air Quality Index (AQI) value of 100.”

The AQI was created as a way to correlate levels of different pollutants to one scale, with a higher AQI value indicating a greater health concern.

A toll‑free Air Quality Hotline (1-800-535-1345) has been established by the DEC to keep New Yorkers informed of the latest Air Quality situation.

Further information on ozone and PM 2.5 [fine particulate matter pollution] is available on DEC’s web site and on the state Department of Health website.