By Billy Corriher
In a speech on Thursday to the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, the Executive Director of the Clean Air Campaign, Ellen Macht, touted the benefits of carpooling and other commuter alternatives as ways to help with the Atlanta area's problems with smog and traffic congestion.
The metro Atlanta region still doesn't meet federal standards for air pollution under the Clean Air Act, but Macht said smog indicators show a gradual decline in the area.
"We certainly have improved, but the bottom line is we've still got a long way to go," she said.
Macht said that "smog season" begins on May 1 and will run through September, when the hottest months of the year "cook" ground-level ozone and particle pollution and smog is produced.
Over the last 10 years, Macht said the Atlanta area has averaged 39 days of dangerous smog levels per year, but last summer only saw 13 days of dangerous levels, thanks to mild temperatures and rain.
"This year, with a potential drought, that's a big question," she said.
Increased smog leads to more asthma problems and emergency room visits related to asthma, Macht said.
The worst hours for smog are between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Macht advised parents to limit children's time outside between those hours on bad smog days.
"We want your children to play outside? but you've got to watch out for their health," she said.
Macht also encouraged the businesses attending the Chamber of Commerce event to provide incentives to employees for carpooling and using alternative modes of transportation.
"It's good corporate citizenship, but we realize there are bottom line concerns as well," she said.
Macht said employees who carpool or take a bus are less stressed, more productive and miss fewer days of work.
Getting employees to consider other transportation options also helps ease traffic congestion, she said.
"We have had phenomenal growth in the Atlanta region," she said. "But that means there are a lot more people on our roads every day."
The Clean Air Campaign also offers financial incentives to carpoolers and those who try out alternative modes of transportation through the Cash for Commuters program.
"We found that 71 percent of those who try it for 90 days stick with it," Macht said.
New Chamber president greets members
Thursday's Chamber of Commerce breakfast also offered members the chance to meet the organization's new president, Matt Carlson, as he finishes up his first week on the job.
"(Carlson) has only been here a few days, but he seems to really get it," said Grant Wainscott, the Chamber's vice president for community development. "We're thrilled to have him."
Carlson comes to the Chamber from the Douglas County Chamber of Commerce, but he had to delay his first day because of an unexpected development with his family.
"We just adopted a 10-month-old baby girl from China, and we had to go over there and pick her up," Carlson said. "I hated to delay (starting the new job), but it was for a good reason."
Now that Carlson has assumed his new position, he said he's been talking to the Chamber's board of directors about their "road map" plan for economic development and expanding the organization's membership.
"There's great potential in Clayton County. We've got all the right resources," he said, mentioning Clayton College & State University and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Carlson said he was looking forward to working with county and city officials on a long-term plan for development.
"We want to be proactive with where we want to go with this road map," he said. "We want to begin to look beyond the horizon, three to five years down the road."