Clean air is essential to our health, the environment, and agriculture. Fort Lauderdale and the South Florida region have generally good air quality. Yet, there are ways to make the air we breathe even healthier, and in doing so we can also help to alleviate symptoms experienced by our neighbors with lung disease, improve the growing environment for trees and plants, and reduce the emissions which are thought to affect climate in the long term.
The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2014 report used the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Air Quality System (AQS) database to collect data from 2010 to 2012 to produce county-by-county ratings of air quality. On a scale from A to F, Broward County scored a "B" for its ozone quality and a "B" for its short-term particle pollution (which measures hours-long spikes in the particle pollution).
To get even more forecast information, go to Air Now's Air Quality Index Forecast.
What's in our air?
Well, plenty of fresh air with all the things we need. Nevertheless, the air we breathe can be contaminated in small percentages that do make a difference. Some pollutants are natural, such as too much pollen or smoke from a wildlfire, However, the majority of pollutants (or air toxins) come from man-made sources. Their impact depends on the quantity of air pollution to which people are exposed, the duration of the exposures, and the potency of the pollutants. The effects of air pollutants can be minor or more serious-- from eye irritation to aggravation of lung diseases.
So what are air pollutants or air toxins and where do they come from? The six found in the United States are particulate matter, ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and lead. Of all of these, particulate matter and ground-level ozone present the most widespread health threats. The sources of these pollutants vary from routine emissions from factories, refineries and power plants, to mobile sources including cars and trucks, to accidental spills and leaks, and forest fires such as the ones we experience in the Everglades.
Our Smog Season
You may not have guessed that South Florida experiences cases of smog, but between the months of April and June we have a smog season. Smog forms when emissions from vehicles, power plants and other sources react with sunlight, creating ozone. The smog forms when there is low humidity, this is why our smog season occurs in the spring. Ozone is a form of air pollution harmful to children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems. The smog usually only reaches unhealthy levels a couple times a year in South Florida, yet there are steps we can take to reduce the amount of smog formed during these months.
What is anyone doing about our air?
A lot is happening at the national, state and local levels. The Clean Air Act was first passed in 1970, and most recently updated in 1990. It lays out the expectations for national air quality and gives the U.S. EPA "authority to implement and enforce regulations reducing air pollutant emissions." In Florida, a Clear Skies approach calls for emissions to be reduced over a 20 year period from the beginning of this century. The goals are emissions reductions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury in to improve public health, improve visibility, reduce acid rain and reduce negative effects to coastal waters.
What You Can Do
There are many ways that you can help to keep our air clean.
- Use less electricity.
- Drive less if you can, and maintain your vehicle.
- Stop smoking.
- Practice fire safety.
This booklet, available on line or as a printable, provides a concise overview of the 1990 Clean Air Act, which is the most recent version of the law to clean up air pollution. This summary explains what is in the law and how it may affect you. There is also a practical list of Ways to Reduce Air Pollution covering advice for home, travel and purchasing.
The FDEP is Florida's primary public environmental agency. Its Division of Air Resource Management, "encourages healthy communities and a prosperous economy by fairly and responsibly regulating Florida's air resource" by working statewide and with local agencies, including representatives in Broward County. Their webpage has useful information on how air quality is monitored in our area, current and historical data, as well as overviews about ozone, particulates in our air and more. Take a look at their list of things you can do to keep the air clean to keep the air clean.
The county's Air Quality Program has local responsibility for: promoting greenhouse gas reduction strategies, controlling air emissions, monitoring air quality, and providing environmental education. Their page offers a variety of resources for reducing your carbon footprint to improve air quality and help mitigate effects on climate.
The nation's premier advocate for the fight against lung disease offers an informative webpage on air quality inside, outside, at work and at school. Explore their website to learn about what they are doing to improve air quality and public health, and what you can do too.