City asks residents to drive less to reduce air pollution

WICHITA — The Wichita area is on the brink of breaking newly proposed ozone standards, and the city is urging residents to make small changes in hopes of avoiding costly penalties, city officials said this morning.

If the Environmental Protection Agency adopts stricter ozone limits and the Wichita area exceeds them, communities in Sedgwick, Butler, Sumner and Harvey counties could have to share in more than $10 million per year to reduce ozone levels.

It could also lead to annual vehicle inspections, which cost about $30 and can force drivers to get their cars fixed.

"If we all do our part we protect our health and save money," Mayor Carl Brewer said at a news conference this morning.

Ground-level ozone is created when sunlight, heat and emissions react together. In higher concentrations, it can harm lungs and lead to emergency room visits and other costly health problems, particularly among those with asthma and other respiratory problems.

Kay Johnson, director of the city's environmental initiatives, said that local industries contribute about a quarter of the pollution but have reduced their emissions greatly in recent years.

The rest stems from individual activities from barbecuing to fueling a vehicle to mowing the lawn.

The city is asking residents to take the following steps:

* Limit vehicle idling

* Refuel after 6 p.m. and avoid spilling gas or topping off the tank.

* Keep your car tuned up and tires properly inflated.

* Drive less, carpool, ride the bus, ride bike.

* Mow grass after 6 p.m.

* Don't burn trash.

* Conserve electricity.

* Don't paint with a sprayer.