Keep it Clean Washoe County Health District, Air Quality Management Division’s Outreach Program
by Julie Hunter, Reno, Nevada
Keep it Clean is the Washoe County Health District Air Quality Management Division’s (AQMD) public information campaign developed in 2012 to increase awareness and engage citizens of Reno, Sparks, and Washoe County, Nevada to keep our air clean.
Keep it Clean won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Gregg Cook Visionary Program Award in April 2014. The award recognizes an air quality project or program that most successfully blends aspects from two or more of the existing award categories. The EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation chose the Keep it Clean campaign for its impact, innovation, and replicability.
Washoe County encompasses 6,542 square miles in the northwest portion of Nevada. The majority of the population of approximately 430,000 live in the Truckee Meadows, a north-south trending basin covering approximately 94 square miles. The Truckee Meadows sits at an elevation of 4,400 feet and is surrounded by mountain ranges. High elevation, high temperatures, and abundant sunshine contribute to high ozone concentrations during the summer. Wintertime temperature inversions combined with light winds contribute to elevated particulate matter, especially from residential woodstove combustion. The Keep it Clean outreach campaign helps to increase the public awareness of seasonal pollutants, and engage citizens to change behaviors to help reduce pollution.
The community action components or programs within the Keep it Clean campaign that help to mitigate air pollution include:
- Know the Code - a wood burning advisory program
- Rack Em Up - an alternative transportation program
- Be Smoke Smart - a wildfire awareness program
- nOzone - a smog prevention program
- Be Idle Free - a campaign to encourage no idling
Each component encourages emission reduction and empowers citizens to take positive actions to Keep it Clean. The Keep it Clean brand has greatly increased public awareness of air quality, improved access to information regarding air quality, and successfully engaged the community as indicated in website statistics, residential wood use surveys, and outreach participation. With approximately 25,000 page views on the website, 1,200 likes on Facebook and 500 followers on Twitter, social media is crucial for public outreach.
At the initial launch of Keep it Clean, AQMD announced the Know the Code program and unveiled a new free electric vehicle charging station available to the public. Know the Code runs from November through February to inform the public daily if it is permissible to burn or not by using color-coded icons that are posted on www.OurCleanAir.com, social media, broadcast on television and radio stations, printed in newspapers, and recorded on AQMD’s telephone hotline. A Green code means it is legal to use woodstoves, pellet stoves, or fireplaces. A Yellow code encourages stopping or reducing burning, and a Red code means it is illegal to burn until air quality improves. The AQMD also works closely with the Reno branch of the National Weather Service to provide information to the community regarding weather conditions that will affect the burn code. As indicated by the 2016 Residential Wood Use Survey, approximately 73 percent of the public stopped wood burning on Yellow or Red burn days. Reduction of burning during Yellow burn days helps reduce the amount of particulate matter accumulation and prevents AQMD from mandating Red burn days.
Another campaign under Keep it Clean is Rack Em Up, a program promoted throughout the year to encourage alternative transportation, fitness, and emission reductions. Rack Em Up supports bicycle use through outreach and special events. The Rack Em Up program participates in several community outreach events including the Tour de Nez, Reno’s premier bike race. During these events, AQMD distributes information regarding the health effects of air pollutants. The program is also a major contributor to the local success of National Bike and Bicycle Safety Month and receives proclamations annually in May from the City of Reno, the City of Sparks, the Washoe County District Board of Health, the Board of County Commissioners, and the State of Nevada.
In 2013, the AQMD started an annual Rack Em Up at School contest as part of the National Bike to School Day and Bike to Work Week to encourage students to ride their bikes to school. AQMD in partnership with the Nevada Safe Routes to School program, invite all Washoe County Schools to participate in the contest. The contest starts on the Monday of Bike Week and continues throughout the week with prizes awarded for the fullest bike racks and the best-decorated bike racks when the competition is over. Winning schools receive gift cards to Scheels Sporting Goods. Eleven schools participated in one or both of the contests with over 700 students riding their bikes to school in 2016! In one single event held at Cold Springs Elementary School, 140 students participated in what the school promoted as “Tour de Safety.” Events coordinated at schools start with a safety briefing conducted by the Nevada Safe Routes to School coordinator where students learn about bicycling safety, bike route locations, and the environmental and fitness benefits to riding their bikes.
The Rack Em Up at School contest has shown teachers, students, and parents how easy, safe and beneficial it is to ride bikes. Incentives can be used year round at schools to continue to support alternative modes of transportation. Using this alternative mode of transportation significantly reduces traffic congestion and the amount of emissions from buses and vehicles within school zones, where idling and emission effects on children are of concern.
During Bike Week 2016, a local website was created for people to register and track their participation and mileage. Altogether, the community including students logged a total of 14,838 miles. This is equivalent to 538,451 calories burned, 7.1 tons of CO2 eliminated, and 532 cars kept off the roadways. These 2016 numbers represent a nearly 50 percent increase from Bike Week 2015, showing a positive trend in the numbers of people choosing active transportation.
The Be Smoke Smart campaign provides the community with information regarding the health effects of wildfire smoke, resources regarding wildfire location, current air quality, and weather conditions. Resources on OurCleanAir.com include the National Weather Service, AirNow, fire cams, fire incident links and other important resources. Additionally, an AQI guide based on visibility was created and is available on the main Be Smoke Smart web page. This information has been used by the Washoe County School District principals in making decisions regarding recess, activities directors in making decisions about sports events, and the general public in deciding to limit their exposure to smoke by staying indoors. Be Smoke Smart attracts thousands of hits both on our Facebook page and our website during critical air episodes throughout the wildfire season. OurCleanAir.com had 1,500 page views in 2015 during wildfire episodes.
The nOzone campaign is promoted during the summer months when ozone concerns are the greatest. During ozone season, the Air Quality Index (AQI) is provided to the public via social media, email, and the AQI hotline. EPA health statements are provided with the daily AQI if it is in the Moderate range or above. Informational flyers are distributed at community events and include information about ozone, health effects, solutions, and tips, as well as what the AQMD is doing to help reduce ozone levels.
The nOzone campaign led to an idle reduction program piloted at local schools. Currently, 29 schools are idle free in Washoe County. A study conducted by AQMD, the Alliance for Climate Education, and the Washoe County School District at six high schools indicated that after educating parents and guardians about the importance of not idling; there was a 40 percent reduction in idling. This statistic illustrates the importance of education and outreach.
In a continued effort to reduce emissions from sources that contribute to the formation of ozone, the Be Idle Free campaign was launched. The Be Idle Free program is asking the community to not leave their vehicles running when they are not being driven. Simply turning off vehicles saves money, reduces wear and tear on the engine, and is better for the air.
In Washoe County, vehicles are the largest source of emissions contributing to the formation of ozone. Behavior changes like being idle free can keep our air clean of the air pollutants that are found in tailpipe emissions, and protect our children and those with heart/lung disease.
The AQMD’s outreach program has been crucial in encouraging the community to make slight behavior changes that lead to emission reductions. By educating the community about emission reduction options, public health protection, and active and alternative transportation options, we can all live in a healthy community and work together to keep our air clean.
Julie Hunter is a Senior Air Quality Specialist with the Washoe County Health District. She is the chair of the Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance, is active on the Safe Routes to School committee, is the Planning Official Development Officer for the Nevada American Planning Association and is a member of the Air and Waste Management Association.
Published in the December 2016/January 2017 Issue