In bright sunlightEssentially, when we use motors and engines on bright, hot, days, the fumes they emit yield a lot more actual pollution, compared to the fumes themselves, thanks to basic chemistry. We cannot all work from home on bad air quality days (though some of us can, and do. I cut a deal to do this very thing with my boss this summer), but we all can choose to put off mowing or running the leaf blower until a few days later. (I'm looking at you, Prius owners with perfectly manicured lawns! :)
* nitrogen oxides
* hydrocarbons and
interact chemically to produce powerful oxidants like ozone (O3) and peroxyacetyl nitrate (PAN).
These secondary pollutants are damaging to plant life and lead to the formation of photochemical smog. PAN is primarily responsible for the eye irritation so characteristic of this type of smog. - Kimball's Biology Pages
There are a few more things we can do as well. The first, of course, is the aforementioned working from home on bad air quality days. Most folks in Loudoun can probably do their job from home at least some of the time, so before you head home today, ask your boss for permission to work from home on Code Red air quality days. They get announced on the radio just like school closings, and are officially designated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The whole point of the designation is to inform people when it's better for us all to not drive, so let's make that happen.
Another thing we can all do is ask our homeowners associations and local governments to refrain from powered landscaping (i.e., mowing and blowing) on bad air quality days. You can contact members of the Leesburg Town Council here, and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors here. Take a moment to click through, and email your representative, letting them know that you'd like the Town and County to adopt a policy of avoiding powered landscaping on Code Red and Code Orange days. We should have our governments lead by example on this.
Little things like this are not going to solve the big problem that is climate change, but it will help with the small problem of local air quality. And it will get our organizing institutions (governments, businesses, households) thinking about air quality as a quality-of-life issue worthy of action. It's a start, and we have to start somewhere. Not all of us can buy a Prius and live in Arlington.