OKLAHOMA CITY – Warm temperatures, calm winds and sunshine may sound like ingredients for a perfect summer day, but they are also the makings for unhealthy air quality called ozone. Ozone season – April through September – signals trouble for one in 10 adults and children with asthma in Oklahoma who will suffer from increased lung inflammation and have difficulty breathing.
Like most six-year-olds, local kindergartner Luke Brewer loves to run and play outside, especially when kicking around a soccer ball. But unlike most children, Luke has to keep a rescue inhaler nearby when he plays outside because he suffers from asthma. “His asthma fluctuates with the seasons, so we have to monitor him closely during ozone alert season,” says John Brewer, Luke’s father. “Ozone is extremely harmful to kids with asthma. He’s an active, energetic boy, and I would hate for it to reach a point where he couldn’t go outside. But as a parent, you’d rather be safe than sorry.”
One simple but effective way Oklahoma City residents can help Luke and the other 32,000 central Oklahoma children suffering from asthma enjoy their summer outdoors is to leave their car at home as much as possible during ozone season, and especially on ozone alert days. EMBARK is making it easy for Oklahoma City metro residents to do their part to improve air quality. On June 19, EMBARK is offering free bus rides on all regular routes and will continue to offer free rides every third Friday through September – July 17, Aug. 21 and Sept. 18. On Free Fare Fridays, you can still commute, run errands and attend events around the city while doing your part to help your friends and neighbors breathe easier, simply by taking the bus.
Breathing ground-level ozone is akin to getting a sunburn on healthy lungs and can cause irritation, burning, inflammation and difficulty breathing. According to the EPA, 10 to 20 percent of summertime respiratory-related hospitalizations are associated with ozone pollution. Oklahoma City ranks 15th highest in the country for high ozone days according to State of the Air 2015 - a report by the American Lung Association.
“When it comes to air quality, Oklahoma City has a poor ranking in part because it is built around a car culture,” says Jeremy Hughey, executive director of American Lung Association in Oklahoma. “Oklahoma’s air pollution won’t go away without some behavioral change. Driving less and taking alternative transportation options like buses and bikes are great ways to improve air quality and lung health for adults and children like.”
“It’s unfortunate Luke and other asthma sufferers might have to spend beautiful afternoons inside taking breathing treatments because the poor air quality makes it so much more difficult for him to catch his breath,” adds Brewer. “I’m so thankful when I hear about people making small changes that can make a big impact on Luke’s health.”
Stephen Morrow, a professor at Oklahoma City Community College, ditched his car in favor of the bus more than seven years ago after learning about the negative impact emissions have on our health and environment. By taking the bus, he produces 95 percent less carbon dioxide than driving himself.
“I thought it would be difficult to leave the comfort of my car, but it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” says Morrow. “Being chauffeured to work every day by the bus is less stressful, saves me money and gives me valuable time to catch up on reading and emails.”
Morrow doesn’t expect everyone to quit driving their cars and join him on the bus immediately, but he challenges his students and fellow professors to try the bus.
“Free Fare Friday is a great time to try our city’s public transit system and change your perceptions about the best way to get around our city. It’s motivating to hear stories about how a simple trip on the bus can make breathing easier for Luke and so many others. It’s a very simple way to make a huge impact.”
To learn more about EMBARK and view bus schedules and routes, visit www.embarkok.com or call (405) 235-RIDE (7433) for personal assistance from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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