County achieves ozone approval

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Although Shelby County achieved attainment status for ozone pollution for 2003, a new standard will likely force the county to face sanctions by April.

An air monitor off of Highway 261 in Helena is the only one of 30 statewide that has registered unacceptable levels of ozone pollution under new guidelines.

According to Ron Gore, air pollution chief for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the county’s attainment status will be short-lived.

Gore said that the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is under court order to determine which counties are under attainment for the new standard by April 15.

Gore said the county will not be able to take advantage of lifted economic sanctions once the county is listed as non-attainment in April.

Sanctions levied against non-attainment counties include a limit to any new, large-emitting industries and a limit to federal road construction money that could lead to increased automotive emissions.

To illustrate the importance of these sanctions, Gore said that Shelby County could not host a new automotive plant if it is listed as non-attainment for ozone pollution.

In addition to economic sanctions, Gore said that Shelby County will once again live with the reality that its air is considered unhealthy.

&uot;There’s the reality that when you’re listed as a non-attainment area, people are breathing air that has been determined to be unhealthy to breathe,&uot; Gore said.

On Monday, ADEM announced that Jefferson and Shelby Counties achieved attainment status for ozone pollution for 2003. The milestone relates to the EPA’s old standard, set in 1978 under the Clean Air Act.

Now, both counties must strive to reach newer, stricter standards. The new limit will be 85 parts per billion. The air monitor in Helena averaged about 87 parts per billion for the past three years, Gore said.

The EPA has refused to divorce Jefferson and Shelby Counties in regards to non-attainment. Some Shelby County leaders argued that the air monitor in Helena picks up pollution from Jefferson County, causing higher readings.

However, Gore said the problem is in the high level of background ozone pollution that both counties contribute to.

That signals a new approach by the EPA, Gore said, in focusing on the larger scale ozone pollution looming over most of the Eastern U.S. Gore said the EPA has shifted its focus to large-scale polluters such as power plants and automobiles nationwide, rather than on individual locations.

&uot;We’re saying that in order to correct the monitors that are over, we’re not going to look at individual facilities,&uot; Gore said. &uot;We’re going to try to reduce that background ozone.&uot;

&uot;They are not localized problems, they are widespread,&uot; he said.

Ironically, Shelby County will likely be forced to suffer sanctions from a separate EPA guideline for fine particulate air matter in December. Gore said Jefferson County registers high levels in the air, while Shelby County’s is acceptable. But as long as the EPA keeps the two counties tied together in regard to pollution, Shelby County will suffer economic sanctions