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Hazed and confused? Houston gets first-ever realtime smog map

In 2004, a Rice University visual arts student lined a treadmill belt with cigarette packs and attached a frightening fact in his artistic statement: "According to environmental activists, running the outer loop surrounding Rice University [a nearly three-mile path that includes a congested section of Main Street] at rush hour measured in inhaled carcinogenic particles is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes."

I don't know if that's true anymore — or if it ever was — but it certainly quantified, in a way that a hazy sunset and ozone alerts can't, Houston's very real and very dangerous problem with smog and air quality.

Based on one day's observation, the numbers are depressing but not surprising. 

Now Houstonians can measure ozone levels in real-time with the Houston Clean Air Network. A collaboration between the University of Houston, Air Alliance Houston and the American Lung Association, the new website includes several sites from Lake Jackson to The Woodlands and their most recently measured ozone levels.

Users can check ozone levels before working out to help decide whether to run in the park versus at the gym, or pessimists can ruin their day by watching the sensors all go from green ("good," 0-60 ozone parts per billion) in the morning to yellow ("moderate," 60-76) orange ("warning," 76-96) and red ("unhealthy," 96-116).

Based on one day's observation, the numbers are depressing but not surprising. The outlying areas tend to have lower ozone levels than the inner city sensors, with the petrochemical-heavy Clear Lake area consistently showing the worst air quality by a small but significant margin.

It's the first real-time information about smog levels. There's also information about what ozone is, how it's created and how to limit exposure.

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