Do Your Share For Clean Air
Summer is coming and warmer weather is here! Now is a good time to think about how our air quality can be impacted.
From May 1 through September 30, the City of Alexandria participates in the Air Quality Action Days program to remind residents about the dangers of ground-level ozone (i.e., smog) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Help us protect our air quality by knowing what you can do during Air Quality Action Days.
Air Quality Index
Visit AirNow to learn more about how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports air quality.
Current Air Quality
View our current air quality, as well as air quality forecasts, for our region, including Alexandria, on the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Air Quality Forecast Webpage.
Air Quality Action Days
Air Quality Action Days is a voluntary public outreach program, sponsored by Clean Air Partners, aimed at changing individual behavior to reduce ozone and particulate matter production. As a participant, you will be notified by 4 p.m. the day before an Air Quality Code Red Day, an unhealthful air day, so that you may take action to protect your health and the environment. Individual actions will help reduce the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter in the 2.5 micron range, especially during the hottest parts of the day. You can find many ways to protect your health and our air with the Clean Air Partners Action Guide. Both individuals and employers can sign up to receive Air Quality Action Day alerts. There's no cost to become a participant. Sign up today!
What Can I Do to Help?
Ground-level ozone levels are worse during hot weather. Watch for Air Quality Code Alerts on the City of Alexandria’s homepage or the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Air Quality Forecast webpage. You may also obtain real-time ozone and other air pollutant levels through AirNow.gov.
Small individual choices may go a long way toward improving regional air quality. The following are a few suggestions for actions that you may take when an Air Quality Code Red Alert is in effect:
- Instead of driving, walk, bike, ride DASH and other bus companies in the Northern Virginia region. Visit GO Alex for additional information on using public transportation.
- Do not refuel your car until evening or idle unnecessarily.
- Do not mow your lawn until dark or put it off to a cooler day.
- Wait until the weather cools to strip and repaint.
- Combine errands into a single trip.
- Avoid excessive engine idling.
- Keep your car well-tuned.
- Use walk-in instead of drive-through line.
- Brown bag your lunch and skip the drive to the restaurant completely.
- Make an Air Quality Code Red Day a day to ride to work in a carpool or with a friend.
- Arrange with your employer to work from home.
- Click here to receive Air Quality Action Day notifications through Clean Air Partners EnviroFlash program.
What Can I Do to Stay Healthy?
Individual choices can help improve air quality and also keep you and your family safe on days when the air quality is code orange or higher. See the resources below for more information on how you can protect your health when pollutant levels are high.
- Guide to Keeping Your Lungs Happy (Clean Air Partners)
- Protecting your health when ozone pollution reaches unhealthy levels (AirNow)
- Protecting your health when particle pollution reaches unhealthy levels (AirNow)
The City of Alexandria participates in the Air Quality Action Days program to further demonstrate its commitment to clean air. Moreover, the City won the Ozone Action Days Government of the Year Award in 2001.The City is taking many actions to educate the public and City employees about the harmful effects of ground-level ozone and fine particulates. These actions include:
- Distribution of the City Manager's memo highlighting the Air Quality Action Days program.
- This section of the City's Website.
- Participate in the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments air quality planning efforts for Northern Virginia and the Metropolitan Washington area.
Ozone and Particulate Matter in the City of Alexandria
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first established a particulate matter standard for particles with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 microns in 1997. These "fine" particles were shown to have increased adverse health effects upon certain segments of the American public, such as children and the elderly.
In April, 2019, EPA approved Maryland and Virginia’s requests for their portions of the Washington area to be redesignated to attainment of the 2008 NAAQS for ozone. On July 16, 2019, EPA approved the redesignation of the District of Columbia from marginal nonattainment to attainment for the 2008 NAAQS for ozone.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments provides a dashboard showing current and historical trends in the metropolitan Washington area's regional air quality. In an effort to address the region's air quality issues, the City of Alexandria participates in the region's air quality planning efforts for Northern Virginia and the Metropolitan Washington area through the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee (MWAQC) and other committees.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is the Difference Between Good Ozone and Bad Ozone?
A. Whether ozone is good or bad depends on where it is found. The ozone that is found within 10 miles of earth's surface (troposphere) is called ground-level ozone and is considered bad ozone. Ground-level ozone is considered an air pollutant and is detrimental to human health, pets, animals and vegetation. It is one of the components of urban smog. The Ozone that is found in stratosphere, between 10 to 30 miles above the earth's surface, is considered good ozone and protects us from ultra violet rays of the sun.
Q. How is Ground Level Ozone Formed?
A. Ground-level ozone (bad ozone) is created by reaction of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight. Some ozone is formed naturally because of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides released from trees, soils, and other natural sources. Additional ozone is produced as a result of the reaction of sunlight with emissions from mobile sources (example: cars, trucks, and automobile etc.), point sources (example: power plants, boilers, and factories etc.), and area sources (example: gas stations, lawn and garden equipment, and evaporating paints etc.).
Q. Why Be Concerned About Bad or Ground Level Ozone?
A. Children and the elderly are most at risk because of ground level ozone. It can aggravate or worsen existing asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, heart disease or other respiratory diseases. Ground-level ozone can cause inflammation or damage to the lining of the lungs. Breathing ozone polluted air causes reduced lung functions up to 20 percent even in healthy adults at higher levels. Ozone can also compromise the body's immune systems making it more susceptible to upper respiratory diseases. Ground level ozone also has economic consequences, such as crop and forest damage, and degradation of various building materials, rubbers, and paints.
Q. What is particulate matter?
A. Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) is comprised of solid particles or liquid droplets tiny enough to remain enough to remain suspended in the air. PM emissions can include everything from dust to carbon (soot) and is generated for a variety of sources such a traffic on paved road, diesel combustion, and earth moving activities related to construction and farming. The greatest threat to public health are those particles small enough (PM2.5) to be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lung.
Q. How do particles affect human health?
A. When inhaled, particles can be deposited in the airways or deep in the lungs. Once deposited, particles may be cleared by the body's natural defense mechanisms, they may accumulate on the surface where they deposit, or they may be absorbed into the underlying tissues. Extensive accumulation and deposition can cause inflammation and irritation of the respiratory tract, lower resistance to colds and pneumonia, damage lung tissue and intensify heart and lung disease. The most susceptible are children, seniors, and individuals with respiratory ailments, however individuals of any age can be affected.
Q. What is the State of Virginia doing about Ozone?
A. Visit the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality's Ozone webpage to learn more about ozone monitoring, forecasts, and prevention tips.
Air Monitoring Stations
As part of the state ambient air monitoring network, the Office of Environmental Quality (OEQ) maintained and operated an Ambient Air Monitoring station at 3200 Colvin Street. However, due to limited resources, Virginia DEQ decided to shut down this station as of May 1, 2016.
Cameron Station PM10 Monitoring Station
The City of Alexandria in partnership with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VADEQ) added a monitor to measure the ambient concentrations of PM10 (particulate matter in the 10-micron size or smaller) at Armistead Boothe Park, in front of the Samuel Tucker Elementary School.
What is PM10? - PM10 are tiny drops of liquid or small particles of dust, metals and other materials that remain suspended in the air. These particles are emitted directly from sources such as earth-moving/aggregate operations or can be formed in the atmosphere when gaseous pollutants react together. PM10 particles are approximately 5 to 10 times smaller than a human hair—as illustrated in the picture to the right of the page.
What are the health effects? - When particles in this size range are inhaled, they can travel into your lungs and other parts of the respiratory system. As the particles journey through the respiratory system they stick to the sides of airways or travel deeper into the lungs leaving behind scar tissue. Research has shown that prolonged exposure to elevated levels of particulates can cause inflammation and irritation of the respiratory tract, lower resistance to colds and pneumonia, damage lung tissue and intensify heart and lung disease. The most susceptible are children, seniors, and individuals with respiratory ailments, however individuals of any age can be affected.
What does the numbers mean? - PM10 is reported in micrograms per cubic meter or ug/mg3. The particulate is collected on a filter and weighed. This weight is combined with the known amount of air that passed through the filter to determine the concentration in the air. The 24-hour National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for PM10 is 150 ug/mg3 and the annual standard is 50 ug/mg3.
What does the data show? - As shown in the chart above, emissions measured at the monitoring station do not exceed the NAAQS for PM10.
Ambient Air Quality
The Clean Air Act and National Ambient Air Quality Standards
The Clean Air Act (CAA) was implemented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. The CAA requires the EPA to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for airborne pollutants as necessary to protect public health and welfare. The purpose of the CAA is to limit the amount that any given pollutant can be in the air in the United States.
Criteria Air Pollutants
There are six "criteria" pollutants classified by the U.S. EPA. A region or jurisdiction is determined to be a "non-attainment area" if one or more of the criteria pollutants exceeds the NAAQS.
- Carbon Monoxide
- Nitrogen Dioxide
- Sulfur Dioxide
- Particulate Matter (PM10 & 2.5)
Non-attainment areas are subject to more stringent air pollution controls than "attainment" or "unclassified" areas.
Ozone (O3): Ozone is not emitted directly into the air but is formed through complex chemical reactions between precursor emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) in the presence of sunlight. These reactions are stimulated by sunlight and temperature so that peak ozone levels typically occur during the warmer seasons of the year. The reactivity of ozone causes health problems because it damages lung tissue, reduces lung function and sensitizes the lungs to other irritants. Non-attainment areas for ozone are further classified as "marginal", "moderate", "serious", "severe", or "extreme", depending on the severity and persistence of the ozone problem.
Carbon Monoxide (CO): Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and poisonous gas that is produced by the incomplete burning of carbon in fuels. When CO enters the bloodstream, it reduces the delivery of oxygen to the body's organs and tissues. Exposure to elevated CO levels can cause impairment of visual perception, manual dexterity, learning ability and performance of complex tasks. Sources of CO include coal burning plants, automobiles, and other small internal combustion engines.
Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2): Nitrogen dioxide is a brownish, highly reactive gas that is present in all urban atmospheres. It can irritate the lungs, cause bronchitis and pneumonia, and lower resistance to respiratory infections. Nitrogen oxides are a significant ingredient to both ozone and acid rain, and may affect both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The two major emissions sources are transportation and stationary fuel combustion sources such as electric utilities and industrial boilers.
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2): High concentrations of sulfur dioxide affect breathing and may aggravate existing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Sensitive populations include asthmatics, individuals with bronchitis or emphysema, children, and the elderly. Sulfur dioxide is also a primary contributor to acid rain, which causes acidification of lakes and streams, damages trees, crops, historic buildings and statues. In addition, sulfur compounds in the air contribute to visibility impairment in large parts of the country. Sources of sulfur dioxide include coal and oil combustion, steel mills, refineries, pulp and paper mills, and nonferrous smelters.
Particulate Matter (PM 10 & 2.5): Particulate matter is dust, dirt, soot, smoke and liquid droplets directly emitted into the air by sources such as factories, power plants, cars, construction activity, fires, and natural windblown dust. Particles formed in the atmosphere by condensation or the transformation of emitted gasses such as SO2 and VOCs are also considered particulate matter. Effects on humans include breathing and respiratory impairments, aggravation of existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease, alterations in the body's defense systems against foreign materials, damage to lung tissue, carcinogenesis and premature death. Particulate matter is a major cause of visibility impairment.
Particulate Matter equal to or less than 10 microns is monitored by OEQ at the Ambient Air Monitoring Station in front of the Samuel Tucker Elementary School in Cameron Station. Alexandria currently meets the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for this criteria pollutant.
Lead (Pb): Exposure to lead can occur through inhalation of air and ingestion in food, water, soil and dust. Excessive lead exposure can cause seizures, mental retardation, and behavioral disorders. Infants and young children are especially susceptible to low doses of lead. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination, there has been a 78% decrease in blood lead levels between 1976 and 1980, and from 1988 and 1991. This decline can be attributed to the reduction of leaded gasoline and to the removal of lead from soldered cans.
Wood Smoke from Wood Stoves and Fireplaces
Wood smoke generated by burning cut wood in residential wood stoves and fireplaces can become a source of particulate matter pollution in the form of smoke. For some populations, this smoke may cause health concerns. The more efficiently the wood is burned, the less smoke is created. To raise awareness and to promote best operating practices for burning wood in home stoves and fireplaces, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Burn Wise program.
The recommended practices include:
- Store firewood outdoors off the ground, with top covered to ensure the wood stays dry.
- Burn only dry hardwood—wood burns best when its moisture content is less than 20%.
- Burn only wood that has been seasoned for at least 6 months.
- If using manufactured logs, choose those made from 100% compressed sawdust.
- Keep the doors of wood-burning appliances closed.
- Clean and maintain chimneys to provide good draft and to reduce the risk of chimney fires.
- Build and maintain hot fires—smoldering fires are not safe nor efficient.
- Do not burn:
- coated, painted or pressure-treated wood,
- wood with glue on or in it,
- household trash, including magazines, boxes, wrapping paper, cardboard, plastics or foam.
- Consider purchasing EPA-certified or qualified appliances
Use of residential fireplaces and wood stoves are not regulated. However, EPA estimates that wood stoves, hydronic heaters, and fireplaces emit more than 345,000 tons of fine particles into the air throughout the country each year—mostly during the winter months. Changing the way we burn wood can save money, reduce air pollution and protect our health.
Learn more at BurnWise
Indoor Air Quality
The Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) regulates asbestos through enforcement of:
- The Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) regulations;
- The Environmental Protection Agency's National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPS);
- The Asbestos Notification regulations found in the Labor Laws of Virginia (§40.1-51.20).
The City of Alexandria and the Virginia Statewide Building Code requires all buildings constructed prior to 1985 which are slated for renovation or demolition be inspected for the presence of asbestos-containing material and that appropriate response actions be undertaken. Buildings are exempted from this requirement if the exemptions listed in Section 36-99.7 of the Code of Virginia are applicable. Structures where asbestos has been detected that are not exempted may be required to complete and obtain an asbestos abatement permit from Code Enforcement prior to renovation or demolition. Please contact Office of Building and Fire Code Administration at 703.746.4200 to assist with this determination.
The Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR) is responsible for all company and individual licensure in Virginia. Certified asbestos abatement contractors can be found on DPOR's Web site. For more information, please see the Department’s Asbestos Regulations website containing Frequently Asked Questions: Virginia’s Asbestos Regulations.
Exposure to mold can result in allergic reactions, asthma, and other respiratory complaints. Molds produce tiny spores that reproduce. Mold spores float through indoor and outdoor air continually. When mold spores land on a damp spot indoors, they may begin growing and digesting whatever they are growing on in order to survive. There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet, and foods. When excessive moisture or water accumulates indoors, mold growth will often occur, particularly if the moisture problem remains undiscovered or un-addressed. There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment; the best way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture. The City of Alexandria does not have any mold inspectors.
Best Management Practices for Mold Control:
- Control Moisture levels in your house.
- Dry water damaged areas and items within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.
- Clean up the mold and get rid of excess water or moisture.
- Fix leaky plumbing or other sources of water.
- Wash mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely.
- Absorbent materials (such as ceiling tiles and carpet) that become moldy should be replaced.
- Do not paint or caulk over mold. It is very important to clean the mold off the wall before painting.
- Consult a professional or a mold specialist.
- Wear gloves, a mask, or a respirator when cleaning mold.
For more information, please visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Mold Resources website.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and poisonous gas that is produced by the incomplete burning of carbon in fuels. When CO enters the bloodstream, it reduces the delivery of oxygen to the body's organs and tissues. Exposure to elevated CO levels can cause impairment of visual perception, manual dexterity, learning ability and performance of complex tasks. Indoor sources of CO commonly include fireplaces, work stoves, and gas furnaces.
Best Management Practices for Carbon Monoxide:
- Provide proper ventilation when operating a fireplace, charcoal grill, work stove, or gas furnace.
- Install CO detectors in your residence
- Do not install them in the bathroom; high humidity levels can cause them to malfunction.
- Check the CO detector batteries annually.
- Inspect the heating system annually.
- Check your gas stove to make sure the pilot light is BLUE. A YELLOW pilot light indicates incomplete combustion and the presence of carbon monoxide.
- Never idle your car in the garage, even if the door is open. This can build up dangerous levels of CO that can enter your house.
For more information, please visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Carbon Monoxide webpage.
Many houses and apartments built before 1978 have paint contains lead (called lead- based paint). These older buildings can potentially pose serious health hazards by exposure to paint flakes or chips that are introduced into the environment or are attached to dust particles in the air. To protect against this risk, on April 22, 2008, EPA issued a rule requiring the use of lead-safe practices and other actions aimed at preventing lead poisoning. Under the rule, beginning April 22, 2010, contractors performing renovation, repair and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes, child care facilities, and schools built before 1978 must be certified and must follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination. The program is currently administered by EPA: please call 1-800-424-5323 if you have questions regarding the certification requirements. You may report enforcement issues to EPA Region 3 at 1-215-814-5000. For more information on Lead in homes, please visit the Alexandria Health Department webpage.
Healthy Painting - Paint can contain harmful chemicals and vapors that reside for several days after being applied. Here are some helpful tips for healthy painting:
- Choose a latex-based paint instead of oil-based paints or paints that contain high levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
- Provide proper ventilation by opening windows or using exhaust fans. Paint fumes can irritate your eyes and cause short-term central nervous system damage, including headaches, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness.
- Keep windows open for at least 48 hours after painting.
- Take frequent breaks to avoid prolonged exposure to paint fumes.
- Wear a mask or a respirator device.
- Keep young children, pregnant women, and elderly persons away from newly painted rooms.
- Properly dispose of your paint. Many paints can be recycled! Only buy what you need to avoid waste.
Outdoor Painting - Many houses and apartments built before 1978 have paint that contains lead (called lead-based paint). Lead from paint, chips, and dust can pose serious health hazards if not taken care of properly. Federal law requires that contractors provide lead information to residents before renovating housing constructed before 1978. According to the Pre-Renovation Education Program (PRE), renovators are required to provide a pamphlet titled "Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home", before starting work.
Best Management Practices for Outdoor Painting:
- Take precautions before your contractor or you begin remodeling on renovations that disturb painted surfaces (such as scraping off paint or tearing out walls)
- Have the area tested for lead-based paint.
- Do not use a belt-sander, propane torch, heat gun, dry scraper, or dry sandpaper to remove lead-based paint. These actions create large amounts of lead dust and fumes.
- Lead dust can remain in your home long after the work is done.
- Temporarily move your family (especially children and pregnant women) out of the apartment or house until the work is done and the area is properly cleaned. If you can't move your family, at least completely seal off the work area.
- Follow other safety measures to reduce lead hazards. You can find out about other safety measures in the EPA brochure titled "Reducing Lead Hazards When Remodeling Your Home". This brochure explains what to do before, during, and after renovations.
- If you have already completed renovations or remodeling that could have released lead-based paint or dust, get your young children tested and follow the steps outlined to protect your family.
Radon is an invisible, cancer-causing radioactive gas created during the natural breakdown of uranium in rocks and soils. Radon seeps into basements and homes through foundations and enters living areas, where it can be inhaled and brought into contact with lung tissue. Radon decay products also cling to tobacco leaves, which are sticky, during the growing season, and enter the lungs when tobacco is smoked. Smoke in indoor environments also is very effective at picking up radon decay products from the air and making them available for inhalation, putting smokers at a higher risk of radon poisoning than non-smokers, who are more likely to cleanly exhale the radon particles. It is likely that radon decay products contribute significantly to the risk of lung cancer from cigarette smoke.
Radon is not an extensive problem in the City of Alexandria; however, residents are encouraged to purchase Radon testing kits to determine if there is a threat in their homes.
For more information, please see the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Indoor Air- Radon webpage.
Odors are not specifically regulated by the City of Alexandria. Odors are only enforceable if they regularly occur and are a nuisance. For example, restaurants and other eateries can potentially produce odors. However, these businesses hold special use permits that require odor mitigation.
Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant
This plant is the largest of its kind in the country and located directly across the Potomac River from Alexandria. Occasionally and depending on the wind direction, the plant emits odorous compounds and these got carried over the river with the wind into Alexandria. Unfortunately, the City does not have any control over this facility although one can go to their website to learn more about the facility and to lodge a complaint: https://www.dcwater.com/contact/. DC Water has long recognized the impact of odors on nearby communities and established an odor abatement program. From a scientific viewpoint, since the human nose is extremely sensitive and can detect odors in the ppb (parts per billion) concentration range, odors are mainly a nuisance and not a health-related issue.
For an intermittent odor incident, staff would need to have the time and date when it is first noticed it in order to investigate the cause. In general, if one could smell the sewage odor inside one’s home or office, it is most likely that this odor comes from the Blue Plains wastewater treatment plant.
AlexRenew (formerly ASA)
Alexandria Renew Enterprises Waste Water Treatment Plant, a 54 µ servicing Alexandria and part of the County of Fairfax. For complaints regarding odor, please visit this website.