Now that the weather is starting to warm up, the state Department of Environmental protection is asking state residents to take steps to improve air quality.

Ozone way above the surface of the Earth is a good thing because it protects us from damaging rays from space. But down here, things are a bit different.

When ozone near the ground mixes with vehicle and smokestack emissions on warm spring and summer days, unhealthy levels of ozone are created.

“Vulnerable populations such as young people, the elderly, those with respiratory conditions, are considered especially vulnerable to the effects of ozone,” said Caryn Shinske, a spokeswoman for the DEP.

She noted at this time of year, “it’s imperative that people pay attention to air quality and take a variety of different steps to help improve it in their own communities.”

Shinske said there are many things people can do to improve air quality in the Garden State.

Drive an electric car, use mass transit or ride a bicycle.

Make fewer trips with your car.

Keep your vehicle in tip-top shape and have it checked out when the 'check engine' light turns on.

Keep tires properly inflated to improve gas mileage.

Turn off your engine while waiting in line.

You can check the air quality where you live or work by visiting cleanair.nj.gov.

According to the New Jersey Bureau of Air Monitoring, the Garden State is averaging about 22.5 days of unhealthy air quality during the warmer weather months, which is an improvement over earlier decades because of stricter emission standards. But with an increasing number of vehicles on the road and an uptick in warmer summers, there is growing concern about smog levels rising.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.