KINGSPORT — The Tri-Cities region had a couple of unusually hot and muggy days earlier this month, which caused Sullivan County to once again exceed air quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
However, a member of the Ozone Action Partnership — a local committee charged with crafting ways to help keep ozone levels down — said the county should still be on track to come into compliance with National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone by the end of the year.
Sullivan County is under an Early Action Compact (EAC) with the EPA due to the county having numerous violations of the ozone standard of 85 parts per billion (ppb) — the level federal officials say impacts public health. Under the EAC, Sullivan County has three years (the deadline being the end of 2007) to meet attainment levels.
The EPA will take the fourth-highest ozone reading at two Sullivan County monitors each year for the past three years and average them together. If the number is 84 ppb or less, then the county would be in attainment.
Last month the county exceeded the 84 ppb threshold on one day, but because of lower readings in 2005 and 2006, the county was still on track to be within attainment levels.
On Sept. 5, the county once again exceeded the 84 ppb threshold at the two monitors, but according to Steve Gossett with the OAP, the county will still likely be in attainment for the three-year period.
Gossett said on that day the Blountville monitor — located at Indian Springs Elementary School — had a reading of 85 ppb. The Kingsport monitor — located at Ketron Middle School — had a reading of 95 ppb.
The four highest readings at the Blountville monitor for the year have been two 91s and two 90s; the fourth highest could have gone as high as 93, Gossett said. The four highest readings at the Kingsport monitor have been 99, 98, 95 and 85; the fourth highest could have been as much as 88, Gossett said.
“The way it worked out, it looks like we’re going to make it,” Gossett said. “It appears — and this is preliminary — as long as there is not some fluke in the weather that comes up in the next two or three weeks, we should be OK.”
The monitors will remain active until Oct. 31, and barring any significant change in the weather, Sullivan County should be in attainment by the end of the year.
“The week around the race, it got pretty bad then, and it looked like to me the weather was going to break, but then it didn’t and we had some more warmer days than they were forecasting. I was pretty concerned,” Gossett said.
The EPA is exploring the idea of implementing more stringent air quality standards, reducing the 84 ppb threshold to a much lower range, from 70 to 75 ppb. The EPA is accepting comments on the suggested changes through Oct. 9 and will make a recommendation in the spring.
If the EPA were to accept the changes, depending on where the monitors are located, Gossett said the new levels could be nearly impossible for the county to meet anytime soon.
“We couldn’t make that even in the rainy years. I don’t know what that says, how attainable that’s going to be. That’s a high concern for all of us,” Gossett said, noting that the EPA administrator told Congress the level needed to be lowered. “That’s an omen that they may well lower that standard. I just don’t see how us and most every populated county is going to make it.”