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Oklahoma's ozone levels spike as heat wave continues

Oklahoma officials say the record heat wave has contributed to higher ozone levels this summer.
BY BRYAN DEAN Published: August 25, 2011

As if Oklahomans needed another reason to despise the record-breaking heat wave that has gripped the state this summer, officials said Wednesday the heat is partly to blame for Oklahoma City doubling its number of ozone-related health advisories this year.

Thursday is an ozone alert day in Oklahoma City, meaning conditions are right for high ozone levels that could lead to a 31st health advisory. There were 15 of these advisories in 2009 and 15 in 2010.

High ozone levels can be a problem for those with asthma or other respiratory issues, and if levels are too high too often, the state can get in trouble with the federal government.

Penalties could include changes that would require service stations to modify gas nozzles, possibly leading to higher gas prices and a halt on major highway construction while a plan is put in place to reduce pollution.

Breathing problems

Dr. Dean Atkinson, of the Oklahoma Allergy and Asthma Clinic, said many people bothered by high ozone levels may not even realize it is contributing to their breathing problems.

“If you get high pollution days, it makes it tougher for some people to breathe,” Atkinson said. “It causes agitation of the lungs at higher levels. People with allergies and asthma can be bothered. They tend to have more sinus issues anyway.”

Ozone is a naturally occurring gas at higher levels of the atmosphere that protects the Earth from dangerous ultraviolet light. But at low levels it is man-made from pollutants created by sources like car engines and power plants.

Ozone isn't created by any one pollutant, but rather is a combination of pollutants that essentially cooks in the heat and collects in the air when conditions are right, said Curt Goeller, environmental programs specialist at the state Department of Environmental Quality.

“It has everything to do with pollutants and factors such as which direction the winds are blowing,” Goeller said. “If we get a stagnant situation where we don't get wind for several days in a row, that's what we really don't want to see.”

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