Air Quality Alert Days

Q) What is the AIR QUALITY ALERT DAYS program designed to do?

A) The program is designed to help protect public health by issuing an alert on days when air quality is unhealthy due to a high level of particle pollution and/or ozone.

The program also provides tips to help protect health on AIR QUALITY ALERT DAYS and keep the air cleaner.

Q) When is the program in effect?

A) The program is in effect all year round because although ozone levels may be at their highest levels from May through September, fine particle pollutants (also known as Particulate Matter or PM) can reach unhealthy levels in winter.

Q) Who forecasts “AIR QUALITY ALERT DAYS”?

A) The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is responsible for forecasting “Air Quality Alert Days” by 3:00 pm the previous day.

Q) Who notifies the media when an “AIR QUALITY ALERT DAY” is forecast?

A) The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management will notify the media and RIPTA by e-mailing the “Air Quality Alert” the previous day.

Q) What is RIPTA’s participation in “AIR QUALITY ALERT DAYS”?

A) All RIPTA regular fixed-routes – excluding special services – will be free on “AIR QUALITY ALERT DAYS.”

More Info on Air Quality Alert Days

More stringent new federal ozone standards are expected to increase the number of Air Quality Alert days the Department of Environmental Management issues under a joint air quality program DEM manages with the RI Public Transit Authority, RI Department of Transportation, and the Department of Health.

The year-round program provides free transportation on all regular RIPTA bus and trolley routes on days when air quality is expected to reach unhealthy levels due to elevated levels of ozone or fine particle pollutants in the air. The new ozone standards issued by the Environmental Protection Agency could also result in Air Quality Alert days being designated earlier and later in the year than in previous years.

The Air Quality Alert program encourages residents to reduce air pollutant emissions by limiting their car travel and their use of small engines, lawn mowers and charcoal lighter fluids. To help cut down on the use of cars, all regular RIPTA routes — excluding special services such as the Providence/Newport ferry service — will be free on Air Quality Alert days. DEM forecasts Air Quality Alert days, issuing Air Quality Alerts typically on the afternoon before such a day occurs.

Ground level ozone, or smog, is a major air pollution problem in Rhode Island and other northeast states. Ozone forms when emissions from power plants, factories, automobiles and other products we use every day react in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight and high temperatures.

The Department of Health warns that unhealthy levels of ozone can cause throat irritation, coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, increased susceptibility to respiratory infection and aggravation of asthma and other respiratory ailments. These symptoms are worsened by exercise and heavy activity. The elderly, children, and people who have underlying lung diseases, such as asthma, are at particular risk of suffering from these effects. As ozone levels increase, the number of people affected and the severity of the health effects also increase.

Fine particles are produced by a wide variety of natural and manmade sources, including factories, power plants, motor vehicles, fires and windblown dust. The Department of Health warns that exposure to elevated levels of fine particles can cause respiratory irritation. People with lung disease are at increased risk for aggravated symptoms of asthma and bronchitis, and increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.

When fine-particle concentrations in the ambient air are elevated, people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children should limit prolonged and strenuous outdoor activity, even in the early morning hours. Unlike ozone, fine particle concentrations can be elevated throughout the day, even in the early morning hours. Individuals who experience respiratory or cardiac symptoms should consult their doctors. Particulate levels can also be elevated indoors when outdoor levels are high, although some filters and air cleaners can reduce those levels. Smoking and the use of candles, fireplaces and wood stoves can also cause elevated indoor levels of fine particles.

RIPTA is reimbursed for bus and trolley rides on Air Quality Alert days through the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program. The RI Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration, makes these funds available for projects that reduce congestion on the highways or reduce emissions from transportation-related activities.

Air Quality Alert Days will be posted on the DEM website homepage, www.dem.ri.gov, and on the RIPTA website, www.ripta.com, under “News & Events.” New this year, the alerts will also be posted on the RIDOT Transportation Management Center’s overhead dynamic message signs on the afternoon before and the morning of the Air Quality Alert day.

DEM’s daily air quality forecast and links to near real time ozone and particulate matter readings are available on the Department's website, www.dem.ri.gov, by clicking on “Air Quality Forecast” under “Timely Topics.” When high ozone or particulate matter levels are predicted, DEM advises residents to check that page for the current air pollution levels before engaging in strenuous outdoor activities. Information about ozone, fine particles, and other air quality issues may also be obtained by calling DEM’s Office of Air Resources at (401) 222-2808.