BALTIMORE is the sixth worst city in the country for ground-level ozone, or air pollution, but most of it doesn't come from smokestacks. Nearly 60 percent of the air pollution in the metropolitan area is caused by cars and trucks.
Marylanders drive more than 100 million miles each day; that's 34 miles per day for each person. What's worse, we are increasing our mileage each year. As the population grows, more of us are driving, many of us are driving more miles to and from work, and we are driving to more places after work.
Figures from the 1990 Census show that fewer Marylanders are using mass transit and car pooling. The Census Bureau said the number of people driving to work alone rose 47 percent between 1980 and 1990. Over the decade, mass transit use increased at a slower rate than did the number of workers, and car pools decreased almost 16 percent. No wonder air pollution is a problem.
The hot, sunny days of summer are around the corner, and they're the worst for ozone. An hour of exercise on a polluted summer day in Baltimore has the effect of smoking a pack of cigarettes. The pollution causes headaches and throat irritations that mimic common allergies. Most people don't realize that the symptoms they are experiencing are caused by pollution.
This is Clean Air Week in Maryland. If you drive alone to work, why not ride with a co-worker at least one day? Or try mass transit. Try the new light rail line, which officially opens tomorrow. Try scheduling after-work errands so that you are not making unnecessary extra trips.
Keep your car maintained and well tuned and avoid long lines at the fast-food restaurant or bank. Idling your engine can be worse than simply parking and turning the engine off.
The message this week is simple, yet critical. We need to work together to make the air we breathe clean and healthy.
Robert Perciasepe is the Maryland secretary of the environment.