Middle Tennessee air quality alert issued for Tuesday

Monday, August 2, 2010 at 6:29pm

Sweltering hot days and air quality alerts are not unusual during summer in Middle Tennessee. But the orange level alert issued for Tuesday is a bit different.

This air quality alert — the eighth of the year — is for particle pollution. The seven previous air quality alerts issued during June and July were for ozone.

“Particle pollution is actually microscopic particles that float around in the air, created when things are burned,” said Melissa Stevens, communications Director for the Clean Air Partnership. “It’s similar [to ground-level ozone] in terms of what causes it but there is no chemical reaction required.”

Harmful particles are released into the air as a result of burning oil, coal, diesel, gas and wood, according to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

The alert signals that particle pollution levels will reach unhealthy levels for sensitive groups such as children, the elderly, those with respiratory illness, those with heart disease, and those who are active outside.

Generally, a summer time air quality alert is for ozone, a colorless gas that exists naturally in the upper atmosphere, but is a harmful air pollutant at ground level. It occurs at ground level through a chemical reaction between sunlight, nitrogen and emissions from cars, trucks, factories, etc.

“We normally do see orange level alerts here,” Stevens said. “So the level isn’t different, it is the pollutant.”

In an attempt to lessen the effects of Tuesday’s particle pollution levels, the Clean Air Partnership of Middle Tennessee is encouraging carpooling or the use of mass transit. Citizens should also avoid the use of gas-powered lawn tools, grills, or other activities that emit particles into the air.

CAP also suggests reducing exposure to particles by reducing strenuous outdoor activity, using filters or air cleaners designed to reduce particles indoors and delaying strenuous activity for when particle levels are forecast to be lower.