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Hot, summer days can cause unhealthy ozone levels in Tri-Cities

KENNEWICK, Wash. - As we enter one of the hottest months of the year in Tri-Cities, state and local leaders want the public to be aware of a silent but potentially dangerous health concern - ground-level ozone.

The Washington State Department of Ecology and Benton Clean Air Agency started an education campaign in May on the potential for high ozone levels and how to help prevent them. They also developed a forecasting tool that can predict ozone levels up to 48 hours in advance.

Dangerous levels of ground-level ozone are often seen in bigger cities, but Tri-Cities has the perfect combination of factors. 

"Usually it's a problem you associate with big cities like Los Angeles," said Andrew Wineke with the air quality program at the Washington State Department of Ecology. "Tri-Cities is unique because what happens is on very hot summer days if you have light wind it kind of builds up against the Horse Heaven Hills."

Ozone at ground-level is a harmful air pollutant that can cause breathing difficulties, worsen heart and lung diseases and more, especially in those with pre-existing conditions.

"We actually didn't know about this until just a few years ago when our computer models were predicting high ozone levels here," said Wineke. "So we put in monitors and did a bunch of studies and realized it's a real problem in Tri-Cities."

Wineke said normally the Tri-Cities area will see anywhere from three to 12 days with higher levels of ozone. However, so far this summer there have been none - only about seven days considered "moderate." 

To help combat potentially unhealthy ozone levels, Wineke suggested carpooling or avoiding mowing the lawn on really hot days. 

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