Reducing Ground Level Ozone Pollution

  • Russ Adams mows his lawn with an electric lawnmower. He does so to reduce local air pollution such as ozone. (Photo by Christina Shockley)

Summer can be a perfect time for barbeques, weekend trips, and yard work. But those very things contribute to a summertime health hazard. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley reports:


Summer can be a perfect time for barbeques, weekend trips, and yard
work. But those very things contribute to a summertime health hazard. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley reports:

(sound of gasoline-powered lawn mower)

This time of year, it takes just a short walk along pretty much any residential
street to find someone mowing their lawn.

(crossfade, gas-powered lawn mower sound out, electric mower sound up)

But if you walk past the Minneapolis home of Russ Adams, you might take a
second look.

“My neighbors came over… they were a little bashful ’cause they
weren’t sure how to pose the question. But they wanted to know what I was
doing in my yard and what that machine was. They thought it was some kind of
new-fangled mulcher or something.”

That mulcher is actually an electric lawnmower. The mower is a sleek red and
black. It’s about the same size as a gasoline mower. There’s no cord running
to it. It runs on a battery. There’s a plug on the back of the main unit
that’s used to charge it.

(sound of garage door opening)

“Okay, so this is the garage. Just plug it in
right here, and really it doesn’t take long for it to juice up. And you just
leave it plugged in, and as soon as it’s fully charged it stops drawing on the
electricity, so it’s energy-efficient even in the recharging mode.”

Adams says the main reason he uses the electric mower is that it’s just one way
he can help improve air quality in his city. And as small a step as that
seems, emissions from small engines such as lawnmowers do cause air quality

Rebecca Helgesen is with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. She says one
major summertime problem is ozone. Helgesen says human activity creates the
ingredients in ozone.

“Certainly motor vehicle exhaust and chemical solvents are major
sources. Also, industrial emissions and gasoline vapors.”

The chemicals stew and combine with hot, humid conditions to increase ground
level ozone.

“When the air is stagnant – not moving very much, and it’s hot and
sunny, that’s when you see the chemical reaction that creates ozone.

Helgesen says the Environmental Protection Agency forecasts ozone, so people
will know ahead of time when not to mow their lawns or to stay indoors. The
forecast is called an Air Quality Index. It uses color codes. On a “yellow”
day, the air is dangerous for sensitive people. On a “red” day, everyone is
encouraged to limit outdoor activity. Ground level ozone can cause lung
damage. Helgesen says breathing ozone isn’t good for anyone, especially those
with asthma.

“You’re coughing more, you may find you have some tightness in your
chest, or uncomfortable. You may find that you’re tired more easily.. all of
those mean that there has been some compromising of your lungs.”

Ozone levels start to fall in the evening as people stop driving, as the sun
sets and the air cools. Helgesen says the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
encourages people to wait to pump gas, drive, and mow their lawns until 7 or 8
at night.

Getting people to do these things is where the organization, Clean Air
Minnesota, comes in. Its members include an unusual mix of business groups,
environmental groups and others.

Bill Droessler is the group’s program director. He says Minneapolis-St. Paul doesn’t
have a big ozone problem, like some other cities… yet. Clean Air Minnesota wants to keep it that
way. If levels go up, the federal government could impose restrictive – and
costly – regulations. Droessler says his group holds on-site training programs
at participating businesses to get people to take action.

“Postpone landscaping things, use of internal combustion engines as late as
possible on those days. Avoiding backyard recreational fires.”

He says even using newer gas cans that don’t let vapors escape as easily helps
reduce ozone. Droessler says he hopes people will take the time to make just one change to
help reduce ozone levels.

Russ Adams sees his electric mower as his one small action. He concedes that
the electric mower does use electricity. But while coal-burning power plants
do pollute, his electric mower is better for air quality than a gas-powered

“My argument is that if everybody had an electric mower, then we’d be cutting
down on the air quality problem. Wouldn’t solve it, but we’d be making a good dent.
I mean, I talk to my friends all the time about how fun it is to use this

Shockley: “So I press it down… and pull back…”
Adams: “There you go.”
Shockley: “Oh, it’s very easy!”

(sound of electric mower)

Adams: “Now what I want you to do, is do this part of the yard in the back. I’ll go in and
have some tea, maybe some orange juice, and then we can tackle the front yard
after you’re done back here.”

Shockley: “Okay, that sounds great.” (laughter)

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Christina Shockley.

(mower noise fades out)

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