As we approach the 21st century, we are faced with some very difficult choices which will affect the quality of life for ourselves, our children and future residents of the City of Dallas.

One such choice facing the City of Dallas is how to deal with the problem of air pollution. To some extent, the decision has been made for us. The 1990 Federal Clean Air Act established acceptable levels of emission of volatile organic compounds and requires that all areas of the country comply with those levels by 1996. Given the current air quality in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, we are designated as a moderate “non-attainment” area under the Clean Air Act and must develop a plan for reducing the air pollutants in a very short period of time.

Unlike other major cities in which cleaning up industries is sufficient to meet the federal requirements, the vast majority of pollutants in the air in our area come from mobile sources – automobiles, airplanes, boats, trains, lawn mowers and any other equipment that is gasoline powered. Certainly, those sources produce great challenges in dealing with our problem.

Four North Texas organizations have formed the North Texas Clean Air coalition. Their goal is to develop a program that will help us come into compliance with the Clean Air Act by the 1996 deadline. One such program is the Ozone Alert Program, which offers a relatively painless opportunity for each of us to do something about air quality. When unacceptable levels of ozone are anticipated, the media will notify the public of the problem and an ozone alert symbol will appear on television and newspapers to remind citizens that precautions must be taken. Here are some simple steps which each of us can take to help reduce ozone in the atmosphere.

  • Limit driving time. Avoid excess idling. If possible, hop a ride or ride the bus. Walk or ride a bike for short trips within the neighborhood and avoid unnecessary cold starts. Most volatile organic compounds are emitted into the air in the first few minutes of engine operation.
  • Drive your newest and most fuel efficient automobile. The newer automobiles emit lower levels of the volatile organic compounds.
  • Refuel carefully. Refueling releases large amounts of pollutants into the air. Whenever possible, keep your automobile in a garage or in the shade because even when they are not being operated, gasoline vapors from automobiles are released into the air and the cooler the vehicle the lower the levels of emission.
  • On ozone alert days, be sure to limit outside chores. Do not mow lawns or use gasoline-powered equipment during the morning hours because they produce very high levels of pollutants. Operating a lawn mower for one hour produces the same amount of pollutants as driving an automobile on a 50-mile trip.

What happens if we do not make every effort to come into compliance with the Clean Air Act? The federal government carries a “big stick.” Non-attainment areas face any or all of the following sanctions – loss of federal highway dollars; a requirement that vehicles use only specially formulated and more expensive fuel; require businesses to implement carpools; and the vehicle inspection process may become more stringent and frequent. Finally, non-compliance could result in the federal government preventing new businesses from locating within our area by refusing to permit those businesses.

The Ozone Alert Program is certainly not the answer to all of our problems, but it is a giant step in the right direction.