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Air quality advisory for Las Vegas Valley issued due to fireworks

Updated July 3, 2020 - 5:29 pm

Clark County has issued an air quality advisory for the holiday weekend because of elevated levels of smoke and ozone from fireworks.

The advisory is in effect for Saturday and Sunday and is in addition to a seasonal ozone advisory, according to Clark County Department of Environment and Sustainability officials.

High smoke and ozone levels can affect older residents and children and people with respiratory illnesses or heart disease, according to the county’s Department of Air Quality.

Fireworks complaints have spiked recently. There were 8,901 reports of illegal fireworks between June 1 and July 2 to the ISpyFireworks site, compared with 1,695 during the same time last year, according to Clark County spokeswoman Stacey Welling.

Setting off fireworks releases dust particulates, which can aggravate allergies and respiratory illnesses. Paul Fransioli, senior meteorologist and monitoring technician for the Department of Air Quality, said that when chemicals in fireworks or smoke mix with sunlight, they can create ozone.

When inhaled, ozone causes the airways to restrict, preventing air from escaping. According to the Environmental Protection Agency website, inhaling ozone can damage the lungs and worsen existing illnesses.

But even those without illnesses may experience difficulty breathing when exposed to ozone. Exposure symptoms include chest pains, coughing, shortness of breath and throat irritation. Long-term exposure can lead to the development of asthma, permanent lung damage and abnormal lung development in children.

Because most fireworks are set off at night, the ozone creation problem often tends to resolve itself, and the pollutants released into the air tend to be diluted or transported away by wind, preventing a decrease in air quality.

Fransioli said it’s hard to predict weather patterns and the increased amount of fireworks set off during the holiday weekend could cause problems. He said that advisories are issued so people who are sensitive to smoke can be prepared.

The area’s air quality index level has remained at moderate even with recent dust storms and smoke from the Mount Charleston wildfire because wind blew it away from the valley.

The county monitors 16 sites for multiple indicators, including ozone levels, PM10 (large dust particles) and PM 2.5 (small dust particles). If any of the indicators exceed a certain quality standard, 150 micrograms per standard cubic meter, then an air quality advisory will be issued.

Residents can follow monitoring efforts and reference time-lapse visibility photos here.

The air quality in Las Vegas during 2020 is not vastly different than that of previous years, Fransioli said. But the air improved in March and April, and though many speculated it had to do with the coronavirus shutdown, it was more likely because of an increase in rain and cloud cover that cut out a lot of sunlight and reduced ozone production, he added.

Las Vegas residents can help reduce ozone production and help improve air quality by taking some simple steps, like filling up gas tanks at night, not idling a vehicle and turning off electronics and lights when not in use.

Find more tips here to reduce ozone.

To stay current on air quality updates in Las Vegas, residents can follow posts on Facebook or follow on Twitter: @SustainClarkCty

Earyn McGee is a 2020 Mass Media reporting fellow through the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Email her at emcgee@reviewjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Afro_Herper.

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