Earth Friendly: Learn the language of clean air

June 19, 2014 at 1:19 a.m.

I recently stopped myself mid-sentence while talking with a colleague and realized something. I realized I sometimes get off on a tangent while talking about air quality and suddenly see the other person's eyes gloss over.

It's the same kind of glisten you see on a piping hot donut just taken from the oven, dripping with warm, sweet, sugary glaze; although this glaze is more bittersweet than anything.

Am I really that person who talks in code; surely, everyone knows exactly what I'm talking about? Ugh, yes, I can be that person. So, in an attempt to keep the glaze out of your eyes and only on that sinfully delicious doughnut, I would like to go over a few terms, or jargon, that come with the job, if you will.

NOx: NOx, pronounced "knocks," is a term used to describe nitrogen oxides. Nitrogen oxides are compounds that are found in things like emissions from driving or fueling up at the gas station.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): Do you ever see that weird, shimmering cloud hovering right outside your gas tank while you are fueling up? That is an example of what VOCs are. These are chemicals, like benzene or acetone, that vaporize readily and are harmful to humans.

Ground-level ozone: This is a compound, often called O3, that is created at the ground level. It is created when certain compounds, such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, combine together under the right conditions. Those conditions require sunlight, little to no breeze and a concentration of ozone contributors such as NOx and VOCs present.

Attainment: This term is used in reference to the air quality index by the Environmental Protection Agency. If an area has a level of ozone well below 75 parts per billion, then that area is said to have "attained" a status of safe levels of ground-level ozone.

Nonattainment: This means what it sounds like. It means an area has a level of ozone higher than the standard of 75 parts per billion. In other words, it has not attained a safe level of ground-level ozone.

Near nonattainment: This is the status Victoria currently possesses. We are rather close to not meeting the 75 parts per billion standard set by the EPA, and we were at one time classified as nonattainment. We sit in the very low 70s, about 71 to 72, at the moment. While we are in attainment, it isn't by much - just by the hair of our teeth.

You've gotten to this point in the article, and you might be wondering why you spent the last five minutes reading definitions to this environmental air quality mumbo jumbo. Well, as the level of ozone in Victoria goes up, so does the price of things associated with owning a car, like inspection stickers and what you pay at the pump. While you watch prices go up, your health decreases.

Keep your money and your health on the rise and practice safe driving. Visit for driving tips that keep you living a cleaner and maybe a little richer.

Kate Garcia is the programs coordinator for the City of Victoria, Environmental Services.



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