KINGSPORT — Sullivan County “just barely” came into compliance with National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone last year, avoiding more stringent guidelines and regulations that likely would have been put in place.
For the past three years, Sullivan County has been under an Early Action Compact (EAC) with the EPA due to the county having numerous violations of the ozone standard of 84 parts per billion (ppb) — higher ozone levels impact public health, federal officials say. Under the EAC, Sullivan County had three years (the deadline being the end of 2007) to meet attainment levels.
In response, the county created the Ozone Action Partnership — a local committee charged with crafting ways to help keep ozone levels down and thus come into compliance with National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone by the end of the three-year period. Steps included public awareness and working to lower the speed limits on Interstates 81 and 26.
In the end, the work paid off because Sullivan County, for the three-year period, had an average ozone level of 83.7 ppb.
“We just barely made it,” said Steve Gossett, with the OAP. “The next step is in April the EPA will issue a final federal register notice to make it official. At that point, the EPA will remove the designation of non-attainment, and we’ll now be in attainment.”
To determine the county’s ozone level for the three-year period, the EPA took the fourth-highest ozone reading at two Sullivan County monitors each year for the past three years and averaged them together.
The fourth-highest reading at the Kingsport monitor was 85 ppb. Factored in with the 83 ppb in 2005 and 83 ppb in 2006, the three-year average score at the monitor was 83.7.
The Blountville monitor had a fourth-highest reading of 90 ppb. Factored in with the 80 ppb in 2005 and the 81 ppb in 2006, the three-year average score at the monitor was 83.7.
“They both barely made it,” Gossett said. “We were all concerned. We just had such a drought this year, and it just kept going. I call it the perfect storm for ozone — dry and hot and that extended for such a long period that we were very concerned.”
Sullivan County exceeded the 84 ppb threshold five times during 2007, with the highest reading being 99 ppb. The monitors were in operation until Oct. 31, 2007.
If the three-year average would have been more than 84 ppb, then the county would have remained at non-attainment, which could have resulted in more stringent rules and regulations, Gossett said.
“That would have put in motion several things. There would have been transportation conformity, the state would put together a plan of what it would require from industries to see if emissions could be reduced, and there would have been a possibility of a vehicle emission testing program,” Gossett said. “I think one of the biggest impacts is the perception out there for the people doing economic development for us. Sometimes if (a prospect) just hears the area is non-attainment, even if it doesn’t affect what they want to do, it could run them off.
“There are major issues with non-attainment — it hurts economic development.”
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 accepted comments on the suggested changes last fall and is expected to make a recommendation in the spring.
Gossett said he has not heard anything lately about whether the EPA will implement any changes to the ozone threshold.
“I’m sure they’re thinking hard on it in Washington, but it would bring many, many counties into non-attainment,” Gossett said. “We’re very thankful the way this turned out. We’ll worry about the next hurdle when it gets here.”