Air Quality Alerts and Ozone: What you need to know


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A Code Orange Health Advisory for ozone is something that is not unusual on hot and sunny days here in Middle Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) issues Air Quality Alerts when ozone levels are forecasted to rise and if you are in certain sensitive groups, you should take note.

Depending on where it occurs, ozone can be either helpful or harmful. High up in the atmosphere ozone is a good thing, it shields the earth from getting too much UV radiation. Ozone at the surface, however, is a pollutant that can impact your health.

Dr. Gillian Walshe-Langford, the Air Monitoring Manager for Nashville’s Metro Public Health Department says that the combination of emissions and hot and sunny weather is often what leads to a rise in ozone levels, “If the emission levels rise from cars, and it’s really sunny, then some of that NOX, nitrogen oxides from emissions, can be converted over into ozone that drives that ozone formation. So it’s kind of a cycle.”

While the general public will not notice this increase in ozone at the surface, some groups may feel the impacts. “If you are in the sensitive group, which is that red group we go into, if you have asthma, lung condition, heart condition, the elderly, and children can be quite sensitive to air pollution. So that’s why we issued those alerts, just so people are aware, and they can limit their outdoor activities, or at least not exert themselves a lot outside.”

There’s even an ozone season in Tennessee that runs from the first of March through Halloween. Typically we only see a few Air Quality Alert Days per year and overall the air quality in Nashville tends to exceed national standards.

“So on a regional scale, air quality in Nashville is very good,” says Dr. Walshe-Langford. “We are below all of the national ambient quality indexes that we need to look at. I know people complain about the air quality in Nashville, but actually it’s pretty good.”

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