WASHINGTON — DC’s air quality improved during the pandemic and local officials hope they can keep that trend going as COVID’s spread slows.
The District Department of Energy and Environment found that ozone levels in 2020 were exceptionally low due to a reduction in traffic congestion. The department added that while 2021 was close to a return to pre-pandemic conditions for ozone levels, it was still a little lower.
Kelly Crawford, associate director for the air quality division of DOEE, said if 2022 stay relatively normal in terms of the pandemic, she would expect DC to continue exceed the health-based national ambient air quality standards for ozone levels.
“There's always a concern that as we return to more normal levels of traffic in the District that we'll see increases in local air pollution,” Crawford said. “However, we are still working on those measures that reduce air pollution in the District. And, so we hope that as we return to more normal levels of congestion and traffic, that those other measures will start to come into play.”
Crawford said DC is working to get more electronic vehicles on the road while encouraging more people to use public transit or bicycles to get to work.
She added the heat can play a factor in increasing ground ozone levels as well.
“Heat definitely plays a role,” she said. “Ground level O-Zone is formed when we have certain chemicals in the air under the presence of heat and light. And, so definitely, we do normally see a correlation between ozone and high heat. However, in the last decade or so, as we made so much progress on improving air quality, especially in the District, we have seen a less of a correlation between heat and ozone.
DC is expected to have two straight days of 90+ degree heat this week, which is abnormal for mid-May.
Crawford said locals should remain vigilant when they go outdoors in the sweltering weather.
“I want people to know that the best thing that they can do to protect their health is to be aware of what the air quality conditions are before they go outside, especially in hot weather,” she said. “Now, high heat doesn't necessarily predicate high ozone days, but for people with asthma, having both would really be cause for alarm.”
The Environmental Protection Agency created an app that allows users to learn about the air quality in their area. It can be found here.