Ozone levels stay low in county Attainment status could aid with industry recruitment

Shelby County has reached a milestone that would have allowed the county to move forward with industry recruitment.

New standards, however, could bring the county right back where it began &045; reaching for an acceptable level of ground-level ozone.

The Alabama Partners for Clean Air announced recently that pollution levels in Shelby and Jefferson counties have stayed within acceptable levels for the past three summers.

This indicates the area, first designated as having too much summer smog in 1978, is eligible for re-designation to &uot;attainment&uot; status by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The &uot;non-attainment&uot; status restricts industry recruitment and has tied the hands of both Shelby and Jefferson counties since the designation.

&uot;This is very important,&uot; said Shelby County Commissioner Larry Dillard, a member of the APCA, &uot;because (without attainment), we can’t locate any new industries, especially smoke-stack industries, in Shelby County.

&uot;We’re limited on bringing in industries and businesses.&uot;

According to Gary White, a Jefferson County commissioner and the county’s representative to the APCA, a combination of voluntary and mandatory actions by citizens and help from Mother Nature brought the area into compliance.

&uot;Voluntary actions taken by local residents, in concert with ADEM requiring the Alabama Power Company to reduce emissions at its coal-fired plants, have resulted in reaching our goal of healthier air quality for our community,&uot; White said.

Residents have taken individual actions such as carpooling or delaying lawn maintenance and gas fill-ups until after 6 p.m., especially on Ozone Alert Days.

Alabama Power Company installed new pollution-control equipment at local plants.

Low-sulfur gasoline brought into the region during the Ozone season helped change the attainment status as well.

In addition, record-setting rainfall in the spring and early summer contributed to lower ozone levels this year.

Dillard cautioned however that residents should not forget about the importance of local air quality.

He said a new, more difficult national standard for ozone will go into effect next spring. The current standard is a one-hour ozone standard; the new standard is an eight-hour standard.

&uot;We’ve achieved (the one-hour standard); but we have to work just as hard at the next level,&uot; Commissioner Dillard said, indicating Shelby and Jefferson counties will not comply with the new standard.

&uot;We must be vigilant and continue to take appropriate actions like carpooling, to control ground-level ozone especially when weather conditions make high ozone levels more likely,&uot; he said.

Dillard said especially on alert or hotter days, residents should cut grass after 6 p.m., carpool, fill cars with gas after 6 p.m. and keep unnecessary travel to a minimum.

Jefferson County was originally designated a non-attainment area for the one-hour ozone standard in 1978; Shelby County was included in 1990.

Data recorded in 2001-03 at the 10 ozone monitors in the counties indicated the region was in compliance. ADEM will request re-designation from EPA after the first of the year.

A public hearing and comment period will be required before the request is submitted to the EPA. Re-designation is expected in mid 2004.