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Oklahoma City area has record number of ozone alert days in 2012

Oklahoma City has had 19 ozone alert days so far this year. Yet air quality in the city is improving, officials say. Metro Transit buses are offering free rides Friday for the final time this year as part of an effort to improve air quality.
BY MICHAEL KIMBALL Modified: September 19, 2012 at 10:23 pm •  Published: September 19, 2012

There have been more ozone alert days in the Oklahoma City area this year than ever before. But even though that doesn't mean air quality is getting worse here, it does still mean you can get a free ride to work Friday.

The 19 ozone alert days so far this year replaced the old record, officials said. The first was May 18 and the most recent was Sept. 5, according to the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments.

But a primary reason for the high number is the changing standards for ozone alert days, said Curt Goeller, an environmental program specialist with the state Environmental Quality Department.

Oklahoma City's air quality has improved steadily along with the rest of the country's since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency continues to toughen air quality standards.

“Everything has just continually gotten better. But our knowledge on how our bodies are sensitive to air pollution has improved as well,” Goeller said. “That's why they continue to make the standards more stringent.”

What is ozone?

Ozone is the same substance that forms the protective ozone layer in the upper atmosphere. But closer to the Earth's surface, it does harm, not good.

“When we talk about ozone, we're talking about smog,” said Ryan Baker, the government association's special programs officer.

Roughly half of the pollutants that cause smog in central Oklahoma come from internal combustion engines on everything from trucks to lawn mowers, Baker said.

But despite sending pollutants in the air, they aren't as bad as they once were.

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