Shelby air fails to meet standards

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 15, 2005

When Shelby County makes a statewide or national list, it’s usually a good one.

However, the county recently made one list that wasn’t so stellar.

Shelby County is one of five Alabama counties not to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management announced the list in its most recent newsletter.

According to ADEM, Shelby County, Jefferson County and Russell County do not meet the new more stringent standards. Parts of Walker and Jackson counties also made the list.

The standards are based on fine particle, or PM2.5, pollution. The particles that are measured include carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, ozone and sulfur oxides.

&uot;Fine particle air pollution is a mixture of microscopic solids and liquid droplets suspended in the air,&uot; the ADEM report stated. &uot;Fine particles can be emitted directly, such as in smoke from a fire, or formed in the atmosphere from industrial and mobile emission sources of gasses such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

&uot;Fine particle pollution represents one of the most significant threats to the nation’s air quality, and human exposure to these particles have been associated with aggravation of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks, chronic bronchitis, asthma and other health-related issues. Particles less than or equal to 2.5 micrometers in diameter (about one-thirtieth the diameter of a human hair) pose the greatest health risk.&uot;

Ron Gore, Head of the Air Division at ADEM, said Shelby County barely made the list.

Ozone levels measured at Helena were just above federal standards. The federal standard is 84 particles per billion in the air. The Helena station measured 85 particles.

The amount of fine particles in the air is also measured. While Shelby County itself met federal standards, one station in north Birmingham failed to meet standards. That means areas surrounding Birmingham, such as Shelby County, are designated as above the standard.

&uot;We’re barely pregnant,&uot; Gore said.

The particles can aggravate heart and lung diseases and have been associated with a variety of serious health problems, such as heart attacks, chronic bronchitis and asthma attacks.

Shelby County Commission Chairman Larry Dillard said much of the problem stems from the county’s proximity to Birmingham.

&uot;It’s a regional problem. There’s no question about it,&uot; he said.

States with non-attainment areas must submit plans by early 2008 that outline how they will meet the standards. They are expected to meet the standards by 2010, or 2015 if they receive a one-time extension.

The EPA estimates meeting the PM 2.5 air quality standards will help prevent 15,000 premature deaths, 75,000 cases of chronic bronchitis, 10,000 hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiovascular disease, hundreds of thousands of occurrences of aggravated asthma and 3.1 million days of missed work due to symptoms related to particle pollution exposure.

Most states and counties meet standards, according to an EPA official.

&uot;Today’s cleaner air represents more than four decades of progress since the signing of the first Clean Air Act in 1963, followed by the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the amendments in 1990,&uot; EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt said. &uot;This is a clean air relay that gets better with each generation, and we are making more progress than ever before.&uot;

A total of 224 counties in 20 states and the District of Columbia made the list. Most of the counties are located near mid-sized to larger cities.

Shelby, Walker and Jefferson are all in the Birmingham area. Jackson County is located near Chattanooga, Tenn., and Russell County borders Columbus, Ga.

Other areas with high pollution counts include Atlanta, Knoxville, Tenn., St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

Gore said many of the areas are located in the Eastern United States, where the air and weather seemingly stagnate more often. In fact, 80 percent of the ozone in Shelby County is &uot;background.&uot;

&uot;We used to think the way to fix the problem was a localized fix,&uot; Gore said. &uot;But in the case of (Shelby County), the background levels are so high, the way to work on the problems is to lower the background levels.&uot;

Gore is confident new EPA rules will help Shelby County meet standards.

The county is also part of a clean air consortium, according to Dillard.

&uot;We are trying to get people to buy gasoline and mow their yards after 6 p.m. during the summer,&uot; Dillard said. &uot;Every little bit helps.