Waiting to Inhale

Krista Villareal
UNT alum and meteorologist of KXAS-TV in Dallas-Fort Worth
Troy Studcky
UNT alum and an environmental scientist and regional pesticides enforcement coordinator at the Environmental Protection Agency
Thursday, May 20, 2004

According to lyricist George Gershwin, summertime living is easy.

For some residents of Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and Texas' other largecities, however, that is sometimes far from true.

Summer weather, with its high temperatures, light winds, low cloud cover andlow rainfall totals, can become a recipe for health problems, says Dr. Troy Stuckey,an environmental scientist and regional pesticides enforcement coordinator atthe Environmental Protection Agency. He points out that the combination of morningpollution emissions from commuter traffic and certain afternoon weather conditions, "canbake up an unhealthy concoction — an ozone threat."

While ozone in the stratosphere protects life from dangerous ultraviolet rays,it can be harmful at ground level. Humans, particularly those with respiratoryillnesses, become more susceptible to disease after exposure to ozone. Ozonealso causes difficulty in breathing by irritating the lungs' lining, resultingin contracting lung muscles and constricting breathing tubes.

In the fall of 1999, Dallas-Fort Worth took the first step to warn residentsabout ozone threats, which cannot be predicted by human eyes. Representativesof public health and environmental agencies gathered to discuss the issue.

Stuckey, a University of North Texas graduate who received his doctoral degreein 1999, joined in the discussion with fellow graduate Krista Villarreal, a meteorologistfor KXAS-TV, the Dallas-Fort Worth NBC affiliate. They were joined by Don Wall,environmental reporter for WFAA-TV, the Dallas-Fort Worth ABC affiliate and currentUNT master's student in environmental ethics.

Working with government agencies, weather experts and health organizations, theUNT-connected participants helped to create the Air Pollution Watch and WarningProgram.

The program advises North Texas residents about the quality of air to expecteach day. Advisories classify air quality from good to bad, using colors to representdifferent levels of health threats Green represents a good air quality (low ozonelevels); yellow, moderate; orange, unhealthy for sensitive groups; red, unhealthyfor everyone; purple, very unhealthy.

Since Stuckey, Villarreal and Wall helped to launch the program in May 2000,other Texas metropolitan areas have adopted similar programs.

The Air Pollution Watch and Warning Program helps Dallas-Fort Worth residentsmake informed choices about outdoor exposure to ozone levels. Residents withimmune deficiencies or respiratory diseases may opt to stay inside during timesof high ozone exposure, and sports enthusiasts make take their workouts insideuntil the ozone threat abates for the day.

The Air Pollution Watch and Warning Program is a regular part of the weatherforecast on both KXAS and WFAA. It is also reported on the Spanish language stationTelemundo 52 and other Dallas-Fort Worth television outlets and media. Informationabout the day's ozone levels is also disseminated via electronic signsalong area highways and through the program's local web site, www.dfwcleanair.com.

Villarreal says that before the program started, meteorologists were using differentterms to describe ozone days.

"Now concerned viewers call me and ask what color the day will be," shesays.

Wall says the program may prove beneficial to the environment as well as to residents.

"When people gain greater awareness of the ecological problems affecting them,they tend to advocate for change. That's when progress can be made," hesays.

Stuckey, Villarreal and Wall continue to use their expertise in educating andinforming the public about environmental issues.

When Stuckey leaves his office on Tuesday afternoons, he drives to UNT, wherehe teaches an environmental class. He arrives at the classroom, positions himselfin front of a board and teaches about ozone.

On a typical day, Wall stands outside in front of a camera, adjusting to thebright sun as he begins to report on the air quality in Dallas.

That same day might find Villarreal standing in front of a blue screen, smilinginto a camera. Soon, a graph will appear and she'll tell her audience thatit's a green day. This day in the city, all is well with the ozone.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108