Many products we use every day - household cleaning products, paints, air fresheners and glues, to name just a few - contain a class of pollutants known as volatile organic compounds that contribute to the formation of smog.
DEP Commissioner Bob Martin today marked the beginning of Air Quality Awareness Week by reminding residents to look for green alternatives to these products and to make other lifestyle choices that will help improve New Jersey's air for everyone. In a proclamation, Governor Chris Christie noted that New Jersey has always been a leader in controlling air pollution.
"Air Quality Awareness Week is a great time to take stock of how our product uses and lifestyle choices affect air quality," Commissioner Martin said. "While it's certainly difficult to eliminate our use of all of the products that contain these chemicals, sometimes all it takes is going back to basics, such as replacing your closet full of cleaning products with some tried and true standards your parents or grandparents probably used. You can often make your own, or find green alternatives in the store. Making simple changes will make your homes a lot greener, and you will likely save some green too."
New Jersey's air quality has improved greatly over the years as a result of tough laws regulating industrial emissions, better pollution controls on cars and trucks, and regional efforts to control pollution from power plants. Still, the DEP is committed to continue working to improve air quality, and public awareness is an important part of this effort. Air Quality Awareness Week is timed to the beginning of the smog season, which coincides with the onset of warmer weather.
Ground-level ozone is a big component of summer smog. It forms in unhealthful concentrations when motor vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents react with sunlight and hot weather, forming a gas composed of three oxygen atoms.
Ozone in the upper atmosphere helps protect the Earth from harmful rays from the sun; at ground level, however, it is a respiratory irritant that can cause chest pain, coughing, throat irritation and congestion. It can reduce lung function and even scar lung tissue.
Here are some tips on reducing home air pollutants:
* Mix vinegar and salt for a good surface cleaner. A vinegar and water mixture works well as a window cleaner.
* Baking soda cleans and deodorizes and is a good scouring powder.
* White vinegar or lemon juice cuts through grease and freshens.
* Switch from chemical-based household cleaners to natural products like soap and water. Use soaps that are not scented or contain dyes.
* Borax cleans, deodorizes disinfects and softens water.
* Commercial air fresheners work by masking smells and coating nasal passages. Make your own by simmering cinnamon sticks, orange peel or cloves in water.
* Choose water-based latex paints. Oil-based paints and varnishes contain solvents that pollute the air. Use less paint and protect the air by using a brush instead of a sprayer.
* Always make sure to store products that contain volatile chemicals properly and with their lids tightly closed.
Of course, there are many other ways to help reduce smog such as combining automobile trips, carpooling, switching to energy-efficient light bulbs and using manual lawn mowers.
"Sometimes doing the right thing for the environment is doing something simple such as taking a few extra minutes to map out your errand runs," Commissioner Martin said. "This may also go a long way toward reducing your stress levels and save gas money."
Commissioner Martin also urges residents, especially those with health problems, to follow the DEP's Air Monitoring Alert System. This system uses color codes to help residents plan their daily activities around current air quality conditions. Conditions are updated daily on the DEP's Web site, www.nj.gov/dep/
Residents may also subscribe to EnviroFlash, an online alert system that delivers critical air quality information right to your e-mail in-box. You can also follow air quality forecasts on Twitter and through RSS feeds through the federal Environmental Protection Agency's EnviroFlash system. Visit www.enviroflash.info