Ground Level Ozone: Stop Ignoring and Start Loving Vapor Recovery Nozzles

Normally when your tank fills up you just replace the nozzle, but unfortunately that often causes some gasoline to, uh, dribble out accidentally. This is bad, and the gas vapor and spilled gasoline will contribute to ground level ozone. (More about why it’s bad later) In a large metro area like St. Louis, gas nozzles come with vapor recovery hoods. Although stickers with instructions are printed and display, I’ve never seen anyone actually read or use them. So today I’m going to tell you how to use them in 3 steps.

  1. Don’t replace the nozzle right after filling up. Wait 3 seconds.
  2. After waiting, insert the nozzle deeper into your gas tank, so that the rubber hood becomes all scrunched up. I will refrain from making any inappropriate sexual comments despite how obvious it all seems.
  3. After a second or two, feel free to replace the nozzle. There should be no spilled gas nor shall gasoline vapor end up.

To give you an example of how this should look, I have included two images. The first one shows the recovery nozzle in it’s natural, unperturbed form. The second shows what it should look like when you push it in all the way, bro.

Smog is Bad
Kills your lungs

So there you go, you’re now an instant expert not only on ground level ozone but also how to properly fill up your tank in St. Louis.

Now,  why this is important and why you should feel bad if you aren’t doing this already:

For asthmatics, the elderly, and those who’ve smoked a pack of American Spirits daily for years, summer can suck (as well as other seasons, depending on what bothers your lungs). Not only is hot and humid air just objectively harder to breathe, but summer also brings the relentless sunshine and heat that encourages ground level ozone formation.

But wait, Ozone is good right? Yes, Ozone is fantastic and prevents our skin from melting off like the Nazi Doctor guy who opened the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Just kidding. It’s protective ability is not that dramatic, but it does prevent a lot of harmful ultraviolet radiation from cooking your skin cells and mutating their DNA into unfriendly, cancerous skin DNA.

However, Ozone (O3, that’s right, it’s not 2 but 3 oxygen molecules) does that in the upper atmosphere best. At ground level it can totally ruin your day. Scientists now believe there is a strong association between exposure to ground level ozone and premature death, According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, cutting ground level ozone emissions by a third nationwide would save 4,000 lives annually.

So, how is ground level ozone formed? In large part, due to almost everything in modern life, man.  Ground level ozone forms from the leftovers of the various nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and classes of compounds known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) spewed into the air by modern, western society. To give you a scope of how much precursor material put out that can form ground level ozone, consider how we power our homes to our cars. Most of us (Midwesterners more) use a lot of fossil fuels. These fuels are organic in nature, and once out in the open air they release volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Sunshine and heat (it’s fucking hot and sunny in summer in a lot of places here, if you haven’t figured it out yet) conspire to break up these chemically volatile and fragile molecules. When broken up, some of the attached oxygen molecules in these compounds peace the hell out and attach themselves to floating, regular O2 molecules. The ones that people like to breathe, unfortunately. Keep in mind, I mentioned fossil fuels, but VOCs can be found anywhere, including windshield wiper fluid, perfume, and even oil based paint (I’m looking at you here, Tina). Add that all up, and you can how the problem can snowball out of control.

I’m going to throw this right out here: there is not going to be a quick fix. Many of the chemicals that are precursors are also extremely necessary in modern life. So we can all do our part to use less of them. However, I have advertised one neat feature that is featured on gas pumps in large cities with smog issues. They are called vapor recovery nozzles.

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