JOHNSON CITY - National Air Quality Awareness Week starts Monday, coinciding with the beginning of the national ozone forecasting season, which begins Tuesday.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is encouraging all Tennesseans to take steps to improve air quality.
Steps people can take to improve the quality of their air include: reducing vehicle emissions by carpooling, taking public transportation, organizing errands for efficiency, and keeping vehicles well-maintained.
Energy conservation also is important to improving air quality, and people can make a difference by utilizing Energy Star appliances, using compact fluorescent light bulbs, weather-stripping doors and windows, adding insulation, and buying Green Power where available.
Limiting open burning also is an important element to improving air quality. In Tennessee, several items including tires and rubber products, vinyl siding, household trash, building material, aerosol cans and electrical wires are illegal to burn at any time during the year to protect the air from pollution.
Recycling and composting are alternatives to open burning recommended by the DEC.
The city of Johnson City seems to be on the right path, as its environmental efforts were recently recognized.
An Ozzie Award, the city's first, was recently presented to the city by the Northeast Tennessee Ozone Action Partnership. The city was recognized for being the first municipality in the area to convert its entire diesel fleet to biodiesel fuel.
"Because biodiesel is cleaner than (even) ultra-low sulfur diesel, its use helps reduce ozone in our region," Johnson City Environment Specialist Jim Culbert said.
While high ozone levels are dangerous to those who must be active outdoors, it creates a different kind of concern for city administrators. If a region loses "attainment status" because ozone levels get too high, too frequently or remain at a high level for too long, federal funding for many types of projects can be in jeopardy.
"We have been close (to losing attainment status) in the past," Culbert said. "That's one reason we formed the Ozone Action Partnership."
The partnership includes Johnson City, Washington County, Kingsport, Bristol and Sullivan County.
For more information on air quality in Tennessee visit the Clean Air Tennessee Web site at www.cleanairtn.org.