What’s with the not-so-witty “high ozone, carpool tomorrow” messages on the highway?

Living in Phoenix we are all familiar with high ozone alert days.  We have all seen the not-as-witty-as-usual air quality messages on the highway message boards asking us to carpool the next day.  But what is ozone; why does the American Lung Association give Maricopa county a grade F on its State of the Air Report?

High pollution advisory sign on the 101

Ozone is O3 or three oxygen atoms bonded together. A bond is broken when there is an energy source, such as light, electricity or heat. The usual reaction to the discovery that ozone is oxygen is usually, “Oxygen is good, right?”, afterall it is what we breathe.  However, the oxygen we breathe is O2 or two oxygen atoms bonded together.  That one little atom makes a really big difference!  Our bodies cannot use ozone the way our body uses O2 because ozone is the wrong size and has very different properties.  For starters, ozone is a highly reactive oxidant. An oxidative molecule is one that wants to react or break its bonds, we call this a chemical reaction.  If energy (heat, light, electricity) is available ozone will take it and become something else, giving off a by-product as a result of the reaction. When we breathe in ozone it causes many negative side effects because it wants to react with our bodies, such as wheezing and coughing, shortness of breath, lung tissue inflammation and asthma attacks.  In plants if affects photosynthesis rates and has been found to decrease crop yield. Ever notice an increase in respiratory irritation/illness when we have stretches of high pollution days? This is due to the oxidative nature of the molecule and the fact that cells are sensitive to very small amounts of it (0.1 ppm). This video helps you visualize what that means: https://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-to-visualize-one-part-per-million-kim-preshoff-the-ted-ed-community In fact, we are so sensitive to it, we can smell it in very low concentrations.  Everyone knows what rain “smells like”, coming from the midwest this smells triggers a euphoric nostalgia in me. However, very few know that what you are smelling is ozone.  Humans can smell a teaspoon of ozone in the area of an olympic sized swimming pool. As high energy electrical charges are released as a storm comes in it forms ozone.  

Ozone is created when UV rays react with oxygen in the air.

The ozone layer is, at its closest, 6 miles above us.  When ozone is ground level and able to be breathed in, it becomes a dangerous pollutant to all life, including plants. Plants make life possible on Earth by providing O2  and glucose, two essential components for life. Low level ozone, or tropospheric ozone is a secondary pollutant. This means it is not directly emitted from a source, instead it is the result of chemical reactions between primary pollutants emitted directly from car exhaust and industry and UV rays.  Hydrocarbons, or fossil fuels, and nitrogen oxides (NOX) given off by cars and industry, use the energy in the UV rays to rearrange themselves into ozone. A by-product of this reaction is smog, often seen just at the horizon in Phoenix. Energy hungry ozone also absorbs heat bouncing off Earth and traps it, this classifies ozone as a greenhouse gas. This is why you are asked to carpool on poor air quality days, to reduce the amount of total car emissions, and therefore, help keep ozone levels down.

Phoenix is the perfect place for high ozone because of three major factors: climate, geographic location and population.  The more people you have, the more car exhaust and industry you have. Therefore, just generally there is higher ozone in urban areas than in less populated areas, however, the geography of our beautiful city compounds this.  The Valley of the Sun is just that, a valley. Think of Phoenix as the bottom of the bowl, where you mix your ingredients. The mountains around us are like the sides of the bowl, keeping the contents of the bowl, in the bowl.  Cloud cover in Phoenix acts as the lid to the bowl, trapping the contents of the bowl. Ozone gets trapped in Phoenix and the cloudy skies of monsoon trap the ozone. When the monsoon rains finally come, they help to “clean” the air of the ozone, dissolving it and pulling it down to be stored within earth.  The amazing Phoenix winds also help to clear the ozone from the city. According to U.S. Climate Data, Arizona has 3835 hours of sunshine in a year. That is an unusually high amount of available UV rays to help create ozone. Our beautiful blue skies and sunshine compound our ozone production. Add that to our population size and our geography and you have the perfect environment for ozone to form and stay.  But there is still one more factor, the climate coupled with the urban heat island effect seen in all cities, generates an enormous amount of heat. Remember that energy hungry ozone traps heat. Cities are already naturally warmer than the surrounding environment because of all the heat absorbing concrete and steel, but Phoenix is unique because of the desert environment it was created in. Phoenix is the 6th hottest city in the world according to the World Atlas.  Now add in a higher than average amount of ozone that is trapping even more heat. Ozone levels rise as much as 20% when it is hot.  

On high pollution days in Phoenix, smog can be seen on the horizon.

When one takes all this into consideration Phoenix seems like an unsafe, perhaps illogical city to live in.  Luckily we do have a system in place that allows us to make choices to limit our production of ozone and our exposure to ozone when it is high.  This is where the Air Quality Index (AQI) from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) comes in. The EPA has created air quality guidelines for ozone, and other air pollutants, and made this information available to the public through the AQI.  The information contained in the Air Quality Index has been gathered through controlled, replicated scientific study. Learn more about the AQI and how air quality is assessed and categorized here: https://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=aqibasics.aqi. When the message board says “carpool tomorrow” it is based on the AQI and recommendations of the EPA, which are both based on good, solid science.  Consider carpooling, taking the bus or the light rail. To avoid exposure, limit time outside. Personally, I don’t let my small children outside to play on high ozone days, we find things to entertain us inside.  What does worry me is this – I, like many Phoenicians, did not grow up here, therefore I have not been exposed to high levels of ozone my whole life, my children will be. Hopefully, with everyone’s help, my childrens’ lives will see ever decreasing levels of ozone in the city of their birth and it not be something they are exposed to for the entirety of their lives.  So next time you see an alert for a high ozone day ask a friend to carpool…seriously, do it.

Author’s Note: This was just released August 13, 2019

Air Pollution May Be As Harmful To Your Lungs As Smoking Cigarettes, Study Finds

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Meet the Amazing Charlie!!

Meet the amazing Charlie! When you call or email ACE Recycling it is Charlie that is able to answer all your questions. We want to take a minute to introduce her to you, allowing you to put a face to the name.

I have had over 20 years experience with Customer Service from restaurant to receptionist and everything in between. I enjoy making people smile and feel the best way to do that is to provide a hassle-free customer service experience. I’m the Head of Amazingness here at ACE Recycling, from answering the phones and scheduling your pick-ups to wiping hard drives and sending out reports. I enjoy learning new things, which comes in handy when you’re working with computers. In my spare time I enjoy reading books and cooking.


We are all used to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. #reducereuserecycle But to create a truly circular economy, we need to add refurbish, reinvent and repair. ACE Recycling is committed to helping you with every aspect of a #circulareconomy.  

#Reduce – buy less, but also, buy what can be reused.  Our linear economy is based on single use – buy, use, throw way.  The linear model is not #sustainable. One small thing I did was to buy #reusable straws.  

#Reuse – aim for #multipleuse products. I also shop with cloth bags.

#Recycle – #ACERecycling has recycle bins EVERYWHERE!  We are constantly looks for #partnerships to offer more options for recycling more materials.  We currently have a partnership with @resinate for pill bottles and dispensary bottles.  We welcome these partnerships, because our goal is to #keepitoutoflandfills

#Refurbish – our #ITexperts can take two non-working devices and get at least one working again! Electronics are surprisingly easy to up-grade, most people however are intimidated by it.  WE AREN’T!! 

#Repair – think your laptop is a goner? It might not be – bring it to us! AZ Complete PCI can fix just about anything!

#Reinvent – this one is REALLY FUN!  Here are just a few ideas: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=crafts+with+old+keyboards

The Circular Economy Vision
A New Circular Vision for Electronics: Time for a Global Reboot

What We Do

With our comprehensive dismantling process, components of devices are sorted and disposed of in an eco-friendly manner. Metals are recovered and hazardous materials are disposed of properly. Components are reused whenever possible. Our extensive knowledge of computers allows us to repair whole units and/or use components to upgrade other devices for re-sale.

Electronic Equipment Removal and Pick-Up – ACE Recycling will come to you facility and pick up your unwanted/unused electronics. All items will be disposed of according to your requirements. We do the heavy lifting!

Data Destruction and Reporting – ACE Recycling will administer a data destruction plan tailored to your specific needs with a letter of destruction upon your request. Proprietary information and components will be removed per your specifications. Hard drives can be wiped using Department of Defense and/or HIPPA approved protocols or destroyed.

Why Recycle Electronics?

Electronic waste is created when an electronic product is discarded.  The rapid innovation of the technology we use everyday means the amount of e-waste is ever increasing.   Find out Why it takes 75 elements to make your cell phone.

More often than not, used electronics simply take up space. E-waste that is thrown away ends up in landfills—both at home and in the developing world—where toxic metals leach into the environment affecting the air, water and soil. Electronics contain heavy metals such as, lead, mercury and arsenic which are toxic to life.  

Electronics contain potentially harmful chemicals, such as heavy metals, that pollute the land, air and water.  Responsible recycling can reduce the amount of these pollutants being put into the environment.

In addition to reducing pollution, recycling electronic waste also helps to preserve land from destruction.  All the elements that go into electronics, must be extracted from Earth.  This requires the disruption or destruction of land and is a chief component of deforestation. According to the World Wildlife Fund 18.7 million acres of forest are lost annually.

Conflict resources are resources that are extracted in a conflict zone and used to finance the fighting.  Miners in these areas are often working in dangerous conditions and are paid poorly.  The article Toward Electronics Free of Conflict Minerals summarizes the issues facing the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The DRC is an especially important area because it supplies many of the components of Western electronic devices.  Recycling helps to reduce the need for conflict minerals and therefore, cutting off the money supply for militias and other groups committing human rights abuses.