More clean air action days could be in our future

Posted at 2:16 PM, May 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-02 14:16:22-04

WEST MICHIGAN — Each summer we hear about what was once called “Ozone Action Days”…a time when we all need to cut back on the use of gas-powered tools and topping off the gas tank in the car. Those things, on a hot, humid, stagnant day, lead to the formation of ground level ozone or pollution. The program originally began back in 1995, but underwent an overhaul and relaunch in 2009 and was changed to “Clean Air Action Days.” It’s governed and overseen by the West Michigan Clean Air Coalition.

Not only does the program monitor pollution and air quality, part of that is monitoring the amount of fine particulate matter (PM) floating in the atmosphere. Years ago 85 ppb (parts per billion) was the limit set by the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2008 that level was further reduced to 76 ppb…and eventually 75 ppb. Now…here’s the change. A new lower standard has been approved down to 70 ppb. That means businesses and communities must conform to this new reduced level of fine particulate in the atmosphere, a level that may be difficult to attain in the immediate future.

West Michigan has about 10 to 12 atmospheric monitors around the area that specifically sample the air and monitor its quality. Two monitors exceeding the required ppb will trigger a Clean Air Action Day. Places like Holland and Muskegon tend to be “hot spots” with air quality, due to the prevailing westerly winds that bring over pollution and particulate matter from across the lake from industrial areas in northern Indiana, Chicago, Milwaukee and Green Bay. In fact, that’s where almost all of our pollution comes from.

There has to be the right atmospheric conditions for ground level ozone to become problematic. Gas combustion, gas-powered tools, exhaust, and ground-level transportation all contribute to increased pollution, especially on hot, humid, low wind, dry days in the summer. The reduction in particulate matter (PM) is set by the EPA and says that states/communities must adhere to it, but they do have a grace period in which to become compliant.

B.C. Cobb plant in Muskegon

There are two things that will help make our West Michigan air a little better. First, the Cobb coal plant in Muskegon just closed after decades of coal burning technology, so officials believe that will have a positive impact. Second, voluntary actions like not cutting the grass or using gas-powered lawn equipment on Clean Air Action Days will have what they call a “dramatic impact” on local air quality.

Since the forecast calls for a somewhat hot/dry summer this year, these conditions may trigger more Clean Air Action Days than we’ve seen the past few years, with the new lower standard in place. We’ll be sure to pass along any new information as we get it.

Make sure to do your share for cleaner air! Click over to for the complete forecast.