Unhealthy levels of air pollution triggers CODE ORANGE for Birmingham— it is not all Canada’s fault

(Birmingham skyline (Pat Byington/Bham Now)

The Jefferson County Department of Health has issued a CODE ORANGE Air Quality Alert for ozone pollution for Friday, June 9th. Even though it is tempting, you can’t solely lay the blame entirely on the Canadian wildfires.

Safety First

Before we describe what triggered the CODE ORANGE alert, here is what Jefferson and Shelby County residents need to do to stay safe.

A CODE ORANGE for ozone means sensitive groups (including children, older adults and those w/ respiratory disease) should limit prolonged outdoor exertion. The general public is likely going to be OK.

What Caused the CODE ORANGE for Ozone

What is the  cause for today’s alert? The hot weather, stagnant winds and pollution from our cars don’t help. A recent weather pattern and the wildfires contribute too.

Ron Gore, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s Head of the Air Quality Division explains:

“For the last few days we’ve had a stagnant mass of air over the Midwest, which has caused a buildup of pollutants. That stagnant air mass is now moving into Alabama causing higher than expected ozone levels.” 

He also states the ozone levels are slightly increased by the fires in Canada and other parts of the US.

“It’s a double double whammy, “ Gore added.

What is Ozone Pollution

One way you can reduce air pollution is by taking the Magic City Connector between Birmingham and Homewood. ( Pat Byington/ Bham Now)

Ground-level Ozone air pollution is formed when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react in the presence of heat and sunlight. Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) come primarily from combustion of fuels in automobiles, coal-fired power plants, industrial boilers and gas-powered engines such as lawn mowers and leaf blowers.

That’s why if you want to help your neighbor, the Alabama Partners for Clean Air asks residents to do the following:

  • Carpool or take public transit
  • Combine errands into one trip and postpone unnecessary trips
  • Limit idling – avoid drive-thru’s
  • Mow the lawn another day
  • Don’t burn leaves or trash
  • Don’t fill your gas tank until after 6:00PM 

What About Canada?

The smoke coming from Canada is primarily particulate pollution. It has likely elevated  particulate levels in the Birmingham area today. 

For ozone, wildfires do contribute to ground-level ozone pollution and may have tipped Jefferson-Shelby counties into the CODE ORANGE category,  Meteorologist Matt Lacke with the Jefferson County Department of Health told Bham Now.

Lacke also added, there was a commercial fire in Tarrant that may contribute additional fine particulate pollution and ozone formation the afternoon of June 9th.

What You Can Do?

Bottomline, prepared for a few poor air quality days entering this weekend. Fortunately, there is some much needed rain in the forecast on Sunday which should help us all breathe easier.

Want to be alert when a bad air quality day is in the forecast? Follow JCDH on Twitter or call 205-933-0583 for the daily forecast. You can also receive daily forecasts via email by signing up at EPA’s Air Now.

Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

Articles: 2256