KINGSPORT - Ozone season is upon us and while 2012 was a challenging year for ozone levels in our region, officials say 2013 will determine if Sullivan County remains in compliance with existing clean air standards.
And if that's not enough to worry about, officials say new, lower standards could be issued from the Environmental Protection Agency next year.
The Ozone Action Partnership held its annual media day press conference Thursday morning to help get the word out on the health effects caused by ozone, information on a proposed federal air quality standard and its effect on the Tri-Cities region.
Formed in 2001, the OAP includes representatives from regional industry, government, academia and the medical community and is charged with crafting ways to help keep ozone levels down during the hot summer months.
Ozone, a main component of smog, is formed mainly on hot, sunny days and is made worse by vehicle and industry emissions. Ozone can irritate the eyes, nose and throat; inflame the lungs; cause tightness in the chest; and increase sickness and premature death in those suffering from lung disease. Children, the elderly and people with asthma, heart conditions and lung diseases are most affected.
Last year, Sullivan County experienced three consecutive days in late June where ozone levels exceeded the EPA standard of 75 parts per billion, said Bill Sorah with the OAP. In fact, on June 29 an ozone level of 100 parts per billion was recorded - the highest level in the Tri-Cities in over a decade.
To determine a county’s ozone level, the EPA takes the fourth-highest ozone reading at two Sullivan County monitors in a given year. If over a three-year period, the average ozone level exceeds the EPA standard, then the county is deemed as non-attainment.
"If we get into non-attainment, that’s something we really want to avoid," said Steve Gossett with the OAP.
Being designated as non-attainment can damage a community’s ability to attract new industry and prevent existing industry from undertaking expansion projects. Non-attainment communities could also lose federal highway funding and be forced to establish mandatory emission reduction programs, such as vehicle emission testing.
Ozone season typically runs from April through September, though the two monitors are active one month before and after the season. Gossett said there’s roughly 10 days a year in the Tri-Cities region when ozone levels are significant.
Sullivan County has been in attainment since the 75 ppb level was established in 2008, but according to Gossett the EPA is looking to revise the standard in 2014 to somewhere in the 60 to 70 ppb range. The EPA attempted to do just that back in 2009, but President Obama chose to keep the 75 ppb level in 2011.
Gossett said 2013 is the year to watch for ozone and will likely be the year that determines whether Sullivan County is compliant with the EPA standard. Sullivan County’s ozone level in 2012 was 76 ppb and Gossett noted the county cannot exceed that number again 2013 if it wishes to remain compliant next year.
Due to ozone levels in its atmosphere, Sullivan County was first threatened with non-attainment status in 2004, but was able to defer that designation by entering into an Early Action Compact with the EPA, eventually coming into compliance through public awareness efforts, reductions in pollution from local industries and with new engine standards.
The OAP advises people to monitor the air quality forecast and plan your activities accordingly. On high pollution days, try not to exercise outdoors, perform lawn care duties or burn leaves and trash during the middle of the day.
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.