During the warmer months, ground level ozone is created when sunlight reacts to nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the air. This ground level ozone is dangerous for everyone, but can be especially dangerous to children, the elderly, and people with asthma. Because children and people with asthma are at an increased risk, it is important for these groups to be educated on how to safely enjoy the outdoors during these periods of increased risk.
At the beginning of ozone season each year (in Pennsylvania, ozone season runs from May 1 to October 31), health and environmental organizations endeavor to get the word out about the hazards of ground level ozone during Air Quality Awareness Week.
From April 30 through May 2, 2018, representatives from the Southeast Regional Office’s Air Quality Program visited three elementary schools in Norristown, Montgomery County to share Coco the Chameleon’s story and bring an important message to third graders. Coco has a problem. He’s a chameleon, but he can’t change colors! Coco and his friends at Lizard Lick Elementary discover that Coco’s asthma is acting up because of poor air quality. The students learned how the daily Air Quality Index provides important information on the proper way to play outside in order to ensure the safety of all students. The Air Quality Index utilizes different colors (green, yellow, orange, red, or purple) to designate how clean or dirty the air is on a given day. On days when the Air Quality Index is orange, students are encouraged to take it easy while playing outdoors, whereas, when the Air Quality Index is red, students are encouraged to play outside in the morning before the ozone reaches harmful levels. Fortunately, Pennsylvania does not experience purple days.In addition to sharing Coco’s story with the third graders in Norristown, DEP staff conducted an exercise activity with the students and facilitated an Air Quality Game Show. DEP staff provided each classroom with two copies of the book "Why Is Coco Orange" (one in English and one in Spanish) and each child was provided with a "Where’s Mike?" air quality activity book. Schools were also provided with information on EPA’s Flag Program. EPA is offering a free set of colored flags to any school that commits to posting the flag corresponding to the Air Quality Index color each day. DEP is thrilled to announce that after hearing the presentation about Coco, both Whitehall Elementary School and Hancock Elementary School signed up for the flag program! If you or someone you know is interested in signing up for this program, please visit the flag program website or contact Lorna Rosenberg at EPA Region 3 for additional information.
DEP SERO Air Quality is looking forward to continuing and expanding this program in the years to come!