home. Home. Homa. Oklahoma.

I don’t know where this image came from – people have been using it a lot this week. Maybe it came from this shirt designer from Tulsa? Maybe it’s been around a long time. But I like it.

Home is like family. When a place is really, truly Home… it may still be able to surprise you, but you know its strengths and weaknesses. You’ve seen it at its best and at its worst. You love it anyway. Maybe you love it just because you’ve seen it go through so much; because you know the depths (both good and bad) it can go to, how it behaves under pressure, how it gets knocked down but keeps standing up again and again and again. How, in its peaceful calm and its violent terrors, it is still beautiful. And you know it is worth going back to. And worth working for. And worth fighting for. And worth making it as strong as it can be, every time. The land gives us strength. We give our community strength. Our community gives the land strength. And back and forth.

Give me an EF-5 and not a Category 5, an EF-5 and not a Richter 10. They can all kill me when it comes right down to it… but when it comes right down to it, I can only ride one of them out from home. Were I to live somewhere else, it would not be home. Not like this.

Not like a quirky cousin, not like an old friend. Not like this place that I trust like any other to have the fortitude to pull together and come back stronger than it was before. Not like this place where I know - where we all know - we Okies can and will do this together. It's just what we do.

May you all be safe and sound and dry, and have all you need for health and comfort this week.


Air Quality Awareness Week - Part 3 - Real-Time Oklahoma Air Quality

So now that we have covered a little bit about the history of air pollution and air regulations, and a little bit about the pollutants and Oklahoma trends, we get to find out what is happening here and now.

The first interesting tidbit is that there is such a thing as air quality forecast; this is similar to weather forecasting. The best place to see the forecast right now is to use AirNow – they have nifty infographics for particulates and ozone. I heard a rumor that AirNow’s forecasting will soon be discontinued? Well, I’m not sure on that.

If the air quality is anticipated to bad the next day, the Oklahoma DEQ calls an Ozone Watch. The purpose of this is to allow people to adjust their plans if necessary, and hopefully to encourage folks to take measures to help prevent ozone formation for that day. Ozone Watches are often broadcast on the news, but you can find out about them on the DEQ’s website. Tulsa has Ozone Alerts, which are basically the same thing.

But what is the air RIGHT NOW? AirNow has cool infographics for this as well; you can even loop the time period the way you can with weather radars and watch the pollution move across the landscape like a storm of approaching ozone! (This is most noticeable during the summer months)

If you are interested in exact measured values, or if you are curious about current levels of other pollutants, you can view the data from all of Oklahoma’s air quality monitors online in near-real-time.
Photo of McClain County Ozone Monitor

To research how local weather conditions may be affecting the air contaminants, you can cross-reference data from the air quality monitors with weather data from the nearest Oklahoma Mesonet or Weather Underground station. (The Mesonet stations will be more defensible for serious study, but Weather Underground may have stations that are nearer to the desired location)

If you are mostly concerned about ozone and particulates for health reasons, the easiest way to stay updated is to sign up for Health Advisories. You can do this through the DEQ website, and when the air quality in your county hits levels of concern, you will immediately be notified via email.

I hope you found this series of Air Quality Awareness Week posts interesting and informative! Go forth, padawans, and breathe deep! (To listen to a goofy hippie song about air pollution on YouTube, click here)


Air Quality Awareness Week - Part 2 - Air Emissions Trends and Oklahoma

National Trends

Thanks to the Clean Air Act and other air quality regulations (such as vehicle fuel standards), the overall air quality in the United States has actually improved in many ways since the onset of air science and air regulation in the 1950’s. I know it sounds hard to believe, but we have learned a lot as a country in the past 60 years of air control, and it shows. EPA's recent Air Trends Report describes the progress: Based on historical data, levels of every major Criteria Pollutant have decreased both in ambient levels (the level we are exposed to) and in amount of emissions.

Example Graph from Air Trends Report

This becomes more evident if you think back to the tragic events in Pennsylvania and London, where poor air quality resulted in the deaths of many perfectly fine, otherwise-healthy individuals (and these events were not isolated; there were others less note-worthy).

Nowadays, except for very extreme and rare circumstances, most healthy American citizens have less to worry about in terms of air. Some people are extra sensitive to air pollution and they still have to keep vigilant on air quality to protect themselves. These categories of folks are young people (who breathe more quickly than adults and whose lungs are still developing), older people (who are sometimes less physically resilient), and people with cardiovascular and pulmonary disorders (such as asthmatics and heart patients).

Ozone in Oklahoma

In Oklahoma, our major air pollutant of concern is ground-level Ozone. Ozone is a lung irritant, and especially problematic for asthmatics. Ozone is a secondary pollutant, meaning that it is not directly emitted, but is created as chemicals in the air react with each other. It is a summertime pollutant because the weather affects the rate of these reactions and the amount of ozone created. Oklahoma experiences higher levels of this pollutant for a variety of reasons. Some of these include:
  • Interstate transport - ozone and ozone precursors blowing in from other states
  • Weather - Hot, bright, still summers allow for more creation of ozone and allow the pollutant to linger for longer periods
  • Urban sprawl and long commutes - Automobiles produce chemicals that react in the sun to create ozone (Nitrous oxides and volatile organic compounds), and Okies love to drive. Our state is designed for vehicle transport.
Every summer in recent years, Oklahoma has had several days which exceed the NAAQS for ozone. It is possible that areas of Oklahoma - such as OKC and Tulsa - are on the verge of being designated as nonattainment for this pollutant; watch for this in the news in upcoming years.

PM2.5 in Oklahoma

The second pollutant that Oklahoma is sometimes concerned with is fine particulate matter. This is any thing in the air at all that is teeny tiny... less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. This can be tiny bits of dust, tiny bits of pollen, tiny bits of soot, even tiny vapor droplets. Particles of this size can be breathed in and travel deep into the lungs - penetrating farther due to their size - and our bodies have a difficult time cleaning them out. Oklahoma's major contributors for fine particulates are:
  • Blowing dust
  • Smoke from wildfires


Oklahoma Trends

Oklahoma's Department of Environmental Quality produces Air Data Reports each year so you can see what the monitored levels of various pollutants were in the state. The Air Data Report from 2012 is here. An example graph for Ozone is below.


Air Quality Awareness Week - Part 1 - Air Quality Basics


It has been a long time since the 1948 fatal air inversion of Donora, Pennsylvania and the killing London Smog of 1952. These two events contributed to the growing awareness that the chemicals and compounds we send into the air can have a detrimental – and sometimes deadly – effect on human health. Governments and average citizens around the world sprang into action and began learning about air pollution – what it does, where it comes from, how to control it, and what amounts can be considered “safe.”

Here in the US, the events in the late 40’s and early 50’s were immediately followed by Air Pollution Control Act of 1955, which created funding for air pollution research. This was followed by the Clean Air Act of 1963, where the research findings were utilized to create a set of federal regulations limiting various air pollutants. The Clean Air Act has been amended several times since it was written, most recently in 1990 – these are the regulations companies in the US follow today.

The Clean Air Act breaks air pollutants down into 2 categories. The first is the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, commonly called the NAAQS (“nacks”). These six pollutants – Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Ozone (O3), Particulate Matter (PM10) and fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) - can cause immediate health risks to individuals. The other categories of air pollutants are Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs). Many of these are substances such as carcinogens, which can have a chronic health effect over time.

When air monitors record levels of pollutants that exceed the NAAQS, that area can be designated as "nonattainment"... this basically means that the area is recognized as having unhealthy air and extra regulations are put into effect to help bring the air pollution back down to safe levels. There are certain exceptions to this... for example, an area gets a couple of freebies a year, and sometimes data can be thrown out if the state can prove the high levels were from a rare event that was not within the state's control (like a huge dust storm or wildfire).

 Each air pollutant has different deleterious effects on humans and the environment. Some air “pollutants” are neutral or even helpful when released in small quantities, but harmful in large quantities. Enough exposure to certain air pollutants can harm even the healthiest of individuals, as well as degrade the infrastructure of our cities and stunt crop growth. For the NAAQS, Primary Standards are the levels of pollutants considered to be safe for public health. Secondary Standards are created to protect everything else.

The allowed levels of these pollutants are based on current science believes to be safe for public health. EPA uses a committee of scientists called the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC) to review the science and suggest updates to the standards every few years on a regular schedule.  


This Saturday! Get a Clean New Mower, Prevent Ozone

We all know about emissions from driving our cars, but we sometimes overlook small-motor emissions. Small-engine equipment must comply with a different set of emissions requirements than vehicles; they are  allowed to pollute more than many of the cars we drive. In fact, if you have an old pre-1995 mower, these machines are from the wild west of small engines and didn't have to meet any emissions requirements at all. Gas-powered mowers produce the same types of pollutants as gas-powered vehicles, many of which (nitrous oxides and volatile organic carbons) contribute to low-level ozone formation.

To help keep our ozone levels low this summer, the Department of Environmental Quality is sponsoring a lawnmower exchange this weekend for Oklahoma City residents and offering a $100 rebate towards the purchase of a brand new electric lawnmower.

If you are married to your gasoline-powered lawnmower or miss your opportunity to grab this rebate, you can still help prevent ozone formation by choosing to mow only when your yard really needs it and by mowing either early or late in the day. If you mow during these time periods, the emissions are less likely to react in the sunlight and create ozone.

My husband and I take lawn care one step cleaner and use a manual muscle-powered reel mower on our yard. I like that I don't have to worry about cutting my foot off or maintaining machinery. He likes that it is lighter weight and we don't have to buy fuel. Our lawn is healthier because we let the clippings compost back into the earth. Our neighboors stop in the street to talk when they see us using it - they tell us how they used to have a mower like this when they were a kid, or how well they think it works, or that they have one sitting in their garage that they never use. One person was surprised you could still buy a manual push-mower! (It was at the hardware store - they're still there.)

The right choice for the hubby and I might not be the right choice for you, but so long as you know the options and how your choice of mower affects your lawn, the air you breathe, and your community, you'll be ahead of the game!  I hope you're all able to snag one of the available rebates if a new electric mower is your cup of tea.

  • For an ABC story on lawnmower emissions, click here.
  • For a National Geographic environmental impact guide to lawn mowers, click here.
  • To read EPA's regulations on lawn equipment emissions, click here.
  • To view Oklahoma's monitored Ozone values for the past year, click here.


EcoIcons: Reading Colin Beavan's "No Impact Man"

Happy Earth Day everyone!

I recently finished reading No Impact Man by Colin Beavan. I suspect you've heard of it? Just in case... a few years ago it was "kind of a big deal." A writer from NYC (and his wife and baby) spends a year trying a myriad of ways for his family to live with zero net environmental impact. He made national news. He made the talk shows. There was a documentary. But the heart of the project was that he wanted to write a book on what he learned.

I watched the documentary a while back. It was interesting/good. Maybe that is one of the reasons I was lackadaisical about getting around to reading the book? (I already knew the plot, I felt.) Well. I should have read it sooner.  It's not very long and it flows well to make a quick and interesting read. For me, the book is a solid home run. I wish I'd read it sooner. In some ways, it was not at all what I expected.

I expected the bits about why we should try to do better for the environment. I expected the parts where he talks about what measures he undertook, and the parts where we find out if those measures were difficult or enjoyable. I did not expect intensely personal storytelling. I did not expect such deep, philosophical speculation.

In the end, I learned a little bit. But I thought a lot. And I felt more inspired than I anticipated.

At work, I like to keep a few special books. These books serve a purpose for me. If I am feeling uninspired and selfish, or even bored; when I don't want to work or have trouble focusing, I pick these books up, flip to a random page, and read just a little bit. When I do that, I am hoping that these books remind me of my priorities and my values. I am hoping they remind me that I didn't come to work to entertain myself, but to accomplish Something Good. I am hoping they keep me grounded and focused. These books are thoughtful and quotable and give my brain something to chew on, in little bits. No Impact Man is going on that book shelf. I might buy a second one to have as a loaner.

So here's a little quote for you to chew on this Earth Day, one which the author decided was the moral of the story:

"I got too paralyzed by this question of whether I was the type of person who could make a difference. Finally, during the year of the project, I realized that's the wrong question. The real question is whether I'm the type of person who wants to try."


On Monarchs and Free Flowers

Did you know that butterflies (and some other insects) taste with their feet? True. Can you imagine tasting your shoes when you put them on? Or walking on a chocolate cake? Delicious.

Also, monarchs migrate through the US from Mexico. They breed in the US. They live in the tropics.

Also, monarch butterflies are at a historic low population this year. So low, that some entomologists believe there is a chance that they will not be able to rebound to normal levels in years to come. There is a variety of reasons for this. Habitat loss. Less food growing around.

So the awesome part is... monarchs love to eat milkweed. And milkweed turns out to be a beautiful garden plant. (Google image search for the genus "Asclepia"... all Asclepias are milkweeds... you will see what I mean!)

To help the butterflies... and/or to get free flowers for your garden... send a SASE to:

Live Monarch - Seed Campaign
3003-C8 Yamato Road #1015
Boca Raton, Florida 33434
$3 donation is requested but not required. For more info on the seeds click here
To listen to an Science Friday story on monarch butterflies, click here