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Group offers tips on how to help keep area ozone levels down

May 7th, 2014 11:27 pm by Matthew Lane

Group offers tips on how to help keep area ozone levels down

KINGSPORT — Ozone levels in Sullivan County have been trending downward in recent years, with only two reported ozone days in 2012 and zero last year.

The Ozone Action Partnership held its annual media day press conference Wednesday morning to help spread the word of the health and economic development effects caused by ozone, what residents can do to reduce ozone levels in the community and information on the next possible federal air quality standard.

Formed in 2001, the OAP is charged with crafting ways to help keep ozone levels down during the hot summer months. The partnership includes representatives from local governments, regional industries, academia and the medical community.

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.

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.

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.

"It's more difficult to expand industry, recruit new industries and it takes a lot more work to get projects funded," said Steve Gossett, a representative with the OAP.

Last year, Sullivan County reported no days where ozone levels exceeded the EPA standard of 75 parts per billion. In 2012, the county reported two ozone days. Gossett said Sullivan County's three-year average now stands at 71 ppb.

In Sullivan County, Gossett said ozone only gets near the standard a couple of times a year and in recent years has been trending down, partly because of power companies and industries switching from coal to natural gas, much like the TVA has done and Eastman Chemical Co. plans to do.

Sullivan County has been in attainment since the 75 ppb level was established in 2008, but according to Gossett, the EPA is again looking to revise the standard in 2015, possibly 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, possibly due to the impact the change would have on the economy, OAP officials said.

Gossett said if a change comes in 2015, then 2014 would be the first year of the three-year average the EPA would look at in the future when determining whether Sullivan County is in compliance with the new standard.

Which is why the OAP wants to keep the public informed about ozone and why it's important to keep ozone levels low during the hot summer months.

Ozone season typically runs from April through September, though the two monitors are active one month before and after the season. There's roughly 10 days a year in the Tri-Cities region when ozone levels are significant.

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 email about the air quality for the next day.

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