Officials advise precautions as ozone levels rise

Ozone levels are rising in Memphis and Shelby County. People with breathing problems and other risk factors are being urged to take precautions in the coming days.

The Air Pollution Control Program of the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department monitors ground-level ozone concentrations in Shelby County. As often happens in the hot summer months, ambient air monitoring stations are detecting an increase in ozone. Ozone is a colorless gas that occurs naturally in the Earth’s upper atmosphere where it protects us from the sun’s harmful rays. When it forms near ground level, it can be harmful to our health.

What Can We Do to Help Reduce Ozone?

Ozone is formed when pollutants emitted by cars, lawnmowers, motorcycles, household cleaners and industrial sources such as power plants, refineries and other sources react chemically with sunlight. More ozone is formed during the hot summer months because the sunlight is stronger, and high atmospheric pressures can keep the ozone trapped near the ground longer. Emissions from industrial sources are carefully monitored and most of those major sources have taken steps to reduce their emissions.

Cars, trucks, motorcycles and other machines with gasoline engines also emit pollutants that can create ozone. That means we all contribute to the ozone problem. But the good news is we can also help reduce ozone by reducing the pollutants we create daily, especially during the hot summer months.

There are simple things we all can do to reduce ozone levels this summer:

• Mow lawns after 7 p.m.

• Fill gas tanks after 7 p.m.

• Reduce pollution and save money by biking, walking, carpooling or by using public transportation

• Combine errands to reduce vehicle usage

• Conserve electricity

• Consider using electric or human powered lawn and garden tools and equipment

• Keep car and boat engines tuned-up

Who is Most at Risk from Ozone?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, one in three people in the U.S. are at risk of experiencing ozone-related health effects. Ozone can:

• Irritate the respiratory system

• Reduce lung function

• Aggravate asthma

• Inflame and damage the lining of the lungs

Children, people with respiratory diseases, the elderly, and adults who work or exercise outdoors are especially sensitive to ozone and should limit the time they spend outdoors in the afternoon when ozone levels are at their highest.

The Memphis and Shelby County Health Department’s Air Monitoring Program maintains monitoring devices around the county and reports levels of ozone and other pollutants in the metropolitan area in the form of the Air Quality Index. The Air Quality Index ranks air quality on a color-coded scale. Green is good air quality, with low levels of ozone and other pollutants; yellow indicates moderate air pollution levels; orange indicates pollutant levels that are unhealthy for sensitive groups; red means air conditions are unhealthy for everyone.

The Health Department transmits Air Quality Index information to meteorologists and news outlets daily. To find out the AQI forecast for each day, check the weather section of the newspaper or listen to your favorite television or radio meteorologist. Or you can check the Shelby County website at or sign up for email updates at

For more information about ozone and the Air Quality Index, call the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department’s Air Pollution Control Program at (901) 544-7775, Monday-Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.