With cooler temperatures also come clearer skies, seen here on a farm off Highway 75 toward Blountville. Photo by Erica Yoon.
KINGSPORT — Sullivan County has had a “pretty decent year” with ozone levels, and according to one local official, the county has only exceeded proposed federal air quality standards three times this summer.
Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency officially announced Sullivan County had been removed from its non-attainment list. Four years ago, the EPA placed Sullivan County on the list after the county racked up numerous violations of the 80 parts per billion ozone standard. In order to get off the list, Sullivan County entered into an Early Action Compact with the EPA and worked for three years to reduce ozone levels and come into compliance.
However, just as soon as Sullivan County came off the list, the EPA announced a tightening of the ozone standard to 75 parts per billion. This new standard has not become official yet, as challenges have been filed by both sides on the issue — some want it even tighter (60 ppb) and others want it loosened.
“The new standard has not been upheld by the court, so it may or may not hold,” said Steve Gossett, with the Ozone Action Partnership. “We don’t want to lose sight of the old standard and it’s easier to compare how we’ve done in past years.”
To determine a county’s ozone level, the EPA takes the fourth-highest ozone reading at two Sullivan County monitors — in this case it’s 74 ppb — just under the proposed new standard.
Gossett said this year Sullivan County has had one day that exceeded the old standard and three days that have exceeded the new standard. Sullivan County has also had 13 ozone action days.
“Last year, we got hit with two or three bad days right in the middle of race week. It was hot and dry and we had a bad period there. It’s not shaping up the same this year,” Gossett said. “So far it’s been really a pretty decent year and I think that’s due to the different weather patterns this year if you compare it to last year. We’re dry, but not nearly as dry.”
Gossett said if Hurricane Fay pushed on up through the Southeast, it could take care of all of the ozone for several more days.
“If we made it through the next three weeks, we would chalk this up as being a very good year.”
Ozone, a main component of smog, is a powerful irritant that damages lungs, causes breathing problems and asthma attacks, and harms plants and wildlife. It forms in the summer when the sun cooks emissions from vehicles, diesel equipment, industrial plants and other sources.
The OAP will continue to monitor ozone levels during the ozone season and issue Ozone Action Day alerts to the public when ozone levels are going to be high.
To receive daily air quality forecasts, OAP officials suggest going to www.airnow.gov and signing up with the EnviroFlash alert system, which will send you a daily e-mail about the air quality for the next day.