County bears burden of Birmingham pollution

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 23, 2003

At the end of the 2003 ozone season in November, all air pollution monitors in Jefferson and Shelby counties recorded levels indicating attainment of existing ozone standards.

Jefferson County also met new, stricter national standards to be implemented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this spring.

However, the single monitor in Shelby County did not reflect attainment of the new ozone standard. In accordance with provisions of the federal Clean Air Act, Shelby County now faces formal designation by the EPA as a non-attainment area for ozone.

Some Shelby County officials complain that pollution drifting into Shelby County from Jefferson County and areas north is responsible for the county’s non-attainment status.

The single monitor in Shelby County, located off of Alabama Highway 261 in Helena, is considered by environmental officials as the best location to monitor air pollution from Jefferson County.

&uot;It is definitely true that emissions from Jefferson County affect the monitor (in Helena),&uot; said Ron Gore, Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s air pollution chief.

Shelby County officials sent a letter to ADEM requesting that the monitor in Helena be moved to a different location. James Ward, ADEM director, asked the county to reconsider moving the monitor.

Gore said moving the Shelby County air monitor could extend the amount of time it takes the county to achieve consecutive readings within attainment.

Since the monitor in Helena was only slightly above attainment levels, he thinks continued efforts to reduce pollution will eventually pull the county out of non-attainment.

The key to reducing air pollution in Shelby County depends on new EPA guidelines targeting industrial pollution in wider regions, according to Gore.

&uot;Science has shown that there is just a general background of ozone all over the east,&uot; Gore said. &uot;We need to clean up the air before it comes to Birmingham.&uot;

The EPA’s level for clean air attainment is 85 parts of ozone per billion. Air from areas north of Birmingham is generally at about 70 parts per billion, Gore said.

Birmingham adds about 20 parts per billion, so that readings at the monitor in Shelby County hover around 90 parts per billion (about five more than the allowed 85 parts per billion).

&uot;What we realize now is we need to reduce that background of 70 (parts per billion),&uot; Gore said. &uot;It is certainly true that Shelby County does not control its own fate in reducing ozone levels.&uot;

Shelby County will likely face obstacles to growth of heavy industry and restrictions for transportation planning under non-attainment status.

According to James Dedes, director of the Shelby County Economic and Industrial Development Authority, many businesses exclude communities under federal non-attainment for air pollution as possible locations for new business.

&uot;We’ve never even been given the opportunity to pitch Shelby County,&uot; Dedes said. &uot;I think it will continue to create challenges to recruiting new business into Shelby County. This is something that we need to address.&uot;

Dedes estimated that Jefferson and Shelby counties have lost more than 11,000 jobs and $2 million in business due to continued non-attainment designations.

Still, Ward and Gore believe Shelby County will benefit from programs already in place to reduce background ozone pollution.

Examples of these national programs include cleaner-burning gasoline standards beginning in 2004, tougher tailpipe standards for autos and diesel vehicles and reductions in coal combustion emissions.

&uot;These national programs are expected to produce reductions of a magnitude that will negate the need for further reduction efforts specific to the Jefferson/Shelby County area,&uot; Ward wrote in a December letter.