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Smog's spreading clouds


SMOG SEASON began early for the Baltimore region, with several days of unhealthful air recorded in the first week of May.

That closely followed a report by the American Lung Association finding that one-fourth of Marylanders live in areas with bad air pollution.

Ten Maryland counties and Baltimore City rank among the worst smog areas in the nation, according to federal data analyzed by the organization. Anne Arundel was ranked No. 10 in the entire country for smog levels.

The combined Baltimore-Washington area had the seventh worst U.S. smog levels, behind four Southern California areas, Houston and Atlanta.

About 140 million Americans live in areas where summertime ground-level ozone, or smog, is a problem. Ozone is formed by sunlight reacting with hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, the emissions of fuel combustion.

Weather conditions play a big role in the number of unhealthful smog days that cause respiratory problems. But polluting emissions from motor vehicles and industrial/power plants is something that can be controlled to improve air quality.

People can also take steps to reduce air pollution. Car pool,

cut down on auto trips, use mass transit, switch to electric-powered lawn equipment. Fill gas tanks after dusk (to reduce fumes reacting with sunshine.)

Local actions don't always assure local air quality. This month's early arrival of smog in Baltimore was linked to emissions from coal-burning plants in the Ohio Valley.

The impact of smog on health is expanding, even if the number of exceptionally high ozone days has declined. Moderate smog levels can cause serious breathing problems, even hospitalization, for children and older residents. About 50,000 Maryland children with asthma are especially at risk.

Staying inside during forecasted smog days is the best precaution, until our outside air is no longer a health hazard.

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