It was an Earth Day first for Stephany Aquinaga, a pre-med student and member of the biology club at Missouri Southern State University.
“This is the first time I have ever planted a tree,” she said.
Aquinaga placed the dogwood in the ground, staked it and labeled it while her partner, Saif Farag, another pre-med student, used a tool called a tree digger to compact the soil around the tree.
The students were among 20 or so who planted 80 seedlings on Tuesday at the university’s biology pond and along Turkey Creek.
“Trees die every single year, and we need to repopulate those,” said Teresa Boman, an assistant professor of biology and environmental health at Missouri Southern who supervised the students. “Trees are important for clean air because they filter out carbon dioxide and replace it with oxygen.”
Protecting the summer air we breathe was the topic of an Earth Day news conference Tuesday at Joplin’s City Hall, where the 4-States Clean Air Alliance unveiled a voluntary clean air action plan to reduce ozone.
The plan was formulated in response to air monitoring that shows the Joplin area has, in recent years, exceeded federal standards for ground-level ozone.
Dan Pekarek, head of the Joplin Health Department and chairman of the alliance, said a key element of the plan is educating members of the public about ways they can reduce ground-level ozone this summer, when it is at its highest concentrations.
“We hope this plan and its voluntary measures will serve as a guide to the community,” he said. “This is what the average person can do to reduce ozone.”
One way to do that is to limit the use of gasoline-powered equipment during the summer and use manual tools when possible. A typical gasoline-powered lawn mower operating for one hour can produce the same amount of ozone as driving an average car almost 200 miles. Decreasing a lawn area by planting more trees, shrubs and flowers can reduce summertime ozone.
Another example: Conserving energy by turning off lights and appliances could reduce emissions from power plants that produce ozone.
Public service announcements, produced by Ramsey MediaWorks of Joplin, that will be aired on local television stations were shown during the news conference. Print ads and billboards will reinforce the message.
Ground-level ozone is one of six principal pollutants that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified as harmful to public health and the environment. Ground-level ozone can aggravate asthma and increase people’s susceptibility to respiratory illnesses.
Joplin’s ozone level is measured by a monitor at Alba. Earlier this month, the monitor showed that the ozone level was 52 parts per billion. If it reached 75 parts per billion, the EPA could identify Joplin as a non-attainment area for ozone and could direct that steps be taken to reduce ozone levels.
Pekarek said development of an action plan, like the one unveiled Tuesday, would be recommended by the federal agency.
“If the EPA finds we are in non-attainment, they would ask us to develop a clean air plan,” he said. “It just makes sense for us to do this.”
The alliance welcomed an important ally to its effort on Tuesday. The Inter-Tribal Council, of Ottawa County, Okla., approved the appointment of Craig Kremen, with the Quapaw Tribe, to the alliance’s board.
The tribe operates an air monitor north of Quapaw, Okla. Kremen is to provide regular updates on ozone levels to the alliance.
“This will give us a broader picture of what’s happening in our area,” Pekarek said. “We’ll have that much more reliable information.”
Measurements from the Quapaw air monitor could be compared with those from the Alba air monitor to show how the Joplin area is influencing the production of ozone, Pekarek said.
Ground-level ozone forms when volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides react in the atmosphere with sunlight and heat. Since ozone requires sunlight and heat to form, it becomes a concern from April through October. Most of the ozone in the Joplin area is generated by upwind sources and vehicular traffic.
THE CLEAN AIR ACTION PLAN, which may be viewed at www.summerair.org, focuses primarily on Jasper and Newton counties in Missouri, but counties upwind from the two-county area are to be included. Those counties would be McDonald County in Missouri, Ottawa County in Oklahoma, Cherokee County in Kansas and Benton County in Arkansas.