March 12, 2008

County flunks new smog, air quality standards

It's as though the Environmental Protection Agency reads this blog!

Remember our headline from Feb. 23:

on an air quality alert story? (And not the last such alert we've had, either. Another one just ended Tuesday.)

Well, yesterday, the EPA "met its requirements of the Clean Air Act by signing the most stringent 8-hour standard ever for ozone, revising the standards for the first time in more than a decade. The agency based the changes on the most recent scientific evidence about the effects of ozone, the primary component of smog."

OK, we'll put the agency's press release into English: The new standard for ozone -- sometimes known by its more familiar nickname, smog -- is 75 ppm. If air quality monitors find less than that, the air is considered clean. More, then you have a problem.

Racine County has a problem.

As the Associated Press summarized:
"The air in hundreds of U.S. counties is simply too dirty to breathe, the government said Wednesday, ordering a multibillion-dollar expansion of efforts to clean up smog in cities and towns nationwide."
It's not necessarily that our air is getting worse (although we are just one of six Wisconsin counties forced to use ethanol-mixed gasoline), but rather that the standard has just been changed. Again, quoting from the EPA: "The previous primary and secondary standards were identical 8-hour standards, set at 0.08 ppm. Because ozone is measured out to three decimal places, the standard effectively became 0.084 ppm: areas with ozone levels as high as 0.084 ppm were considered as meeting the 0.08 ppm standard, because of rounding.

We met that old standard, but now we're among 345 U.S. counties -- out of more than 700 counties where the air is monitored -- that do not. The good news -- enlarge the accompanying chart to see how all of Wisconsin's monitored counties rank -- is that we're close. Of the eight counties with air quality problems, we're closest to meeting the new standards, just .003 ppm from compliance. (Get that clunker off the road and do us all a favor.)

Meeting the new standards, according to the EPA, will be good for our health: "
EPA estimates that the final standards will yield health benefits valued between $2 billion and $19 billion. Those benefits include preventing cases of bronchitis, aggravated asthma, hospital and emergency room visits, nonfatal heart attacks and premature death, among others. EPA's Regulatory Impact analysis shows that benefits are likely greater than the cost of implementing the standards. Cost estimates range from $7.6 billion to $8.5 billion."

The EPA release is HERE.

The AP story which makes it all perfectly clear is HERE.

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