Heat Wave Triggers Air Quality Alerts

During the NJ Summer 2022 eight day heatwave in July, heat advisories were posted by the National Weather Service as well as DEP air quality alerts and advisories for Middlesex County. An air quality alert means that air within the region may become unhealthy because of air pollution concentrations and sensitive groups could be effected including children, elderly and people with asthma, heart diseases or lung diseases. The air pollution forecast was for ground level ozone and fine particulates. These updates can be seen on the NJ Bureau of Air Monitoring and the air now.gov. The air quality advisory was also issued that the air pollution will approach or exceed unhealthy standards. The alerts advised sensitive group to avoid outdoor activity.

Heatwaves often trigger air quality alerts because the air becomes stagnant and traps pollutants like ozone that carry significant health risks. In Perth Amboy, heat combined with humidity sent temperatures into the feels like 104-111 degrees. At the same time, Middlesex County has entered into moderate drought conditions.

Urban areas are hotter because of more heat being created from hard, dry surfaces such as roofs, concert sidewalks, asphalt roads, buildings, and parking lots which provide less shade and moisture than natural landscapes and retain heat and contribute to higher temperatures. Urban areas also have heat from tools, cars and factories and warehouse ands more activity from people. The term “urban heat island” is a built-up area with temperatures that are higher than surrounding areas, and these areas have worse air and water quality than surrounding areas from more pollutants.

There are many recommendations for bringing down heat in urban areas and improving air quality and health. We can work to reduce our impact on urban areas. Planting more trees helps to cool down the city with shade. Trees also absorb carbon dioxide, a leading pollutant improving air quality. They also reduce the heat of the surrounding areas. Using lighter-colored materials and white reflective paints on buildings helps, too. Light colors reflect more sunlight and trap less heat. The use of cool building materials on roofs, streets and pavements is an important cooling strategy. A cool surface material has low heat conductivity, low heat capacity, high solar reflectance and high permeability. Another cooling strategy is green infrastructure including parks, street trees, community gardens, green roofs and vertical gardens. Another strategy is the use of water to cool down areas, like installing fountains, water parks, etc. All this could become part of Perth Amboy climate adaptation plans.