Ozone Readings Elevated in Region in ‘06
Posted: Friday, October 27, 2006The Central Oklahoma region experienced 16 exceedances of the federal ozone standards in summer 2006. Despite this, the region was still able to remain in compliance with the air quality standards of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), though the ceiling for 2007 has been lowered considerably.
The adjacent table reveals the four highest readings at each monitoring location in Central Oklahoma and what must be done to remain in compliance with the federal 8-hour standard in 2007.
Ozone levels are continuously monitored at six locations in the Central Oklahoma region between the months of May and September. The Central Oklahoma Clean Air Committee calls attention to days when weather conditions may be conducive for high levels of air pollution in an effort to encourage voluntary actions for reducing ozone. The Committee has notified local media and meteorologists of Clean Air Alert day forecasts since 1992. Informing the public a day in advance gives people the opportunity to plan their activities in hopes of reducing air pollution levels. There were 11 Clean Air Alert Days for Ozone issued this summer.
The federal standard for ozone is an average reading of eight parts per million (.080 ppm), measured over eight hours. Due to mathematical rounding, readings at or above .085 ppm are considered to be in excess of the federal standard. These readings are known as “exceedances” and they occur several times each summer.
To be in violation of the standard, EPA looks at the fourth highest reading at each site, and averages it over three years. For example, this past summer’s readings will be averaged with readings from 2004 and 2005. It will also be included in a set of 2005-2007 data. Finally, it will start the data set for 2006, 2007 and 2008. Given this rolling set of data, it allows for a fairly accurate (ambient) measurement of overall ozone in a region and even allows for some flexibility. A good summer of low ozone readings can help a region for years, while a bad summer can bring a region right back to a level of concern (our current situation).
Ozone causes shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, eye and nose irritation. It is especially dangerous to the elderly, children, asthmatics and people with chronic respiratory ailments. During days in which ozone is at extremely high levels, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that people with cardiovascular disease, such as angina, should limit physical activity and avoid outdoor activities.
Air pollution not only affects health, but it impacts the region’s economic vitality, future development and quality of life. The economic impact of a “non-attainment” designation is enormous. Essentially, civic leaders would have to commit to a plan that would showcase that the region has the ability to clean its air and maintain a good air quality status.
Remediation efforts would involve participation from industry, the transportation sector and the public. For example, in Texas, the state mandates vehicle inspection and maintenance programs, chemically-altered gasoline, and imposed limits on road construction. Similar impacts may be implemented in Central Oklahoma if the region were to violate the standards. A non-attainment designation would also make it difficult to attract and recruit large industrial employers to the region.
As a result of the elevated readings, a group of regional stakeholders are exploring opportunities to address the issue. A meeting was held in September to discuss an EPA program called O3Flex, or ozone flex, that would allow regions still in attainment to participate in locally-designed controls.