Shelby, Jefferson counties fail federal air quality tests

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 17, 2007

By MEREDITH TOWLE / Staff Writer

Hold your breath Shelby County &8212; you may not be breathing quality air.

Both Shelby and Jefferson counties failed a new federal air pollution test on the first day it was law.

The counties are in violation of stiffer standards for fine particles, or microscopic dust, smoke or liquid droplets in the air. Health studies have shown that the small particles can get lodged in lungs and cause serious respiratory and heart problems.

Under the new rules, monitors can take in no more than 35 micrograms of the tiny particles per cubic meter of air in one day. Yet, when the changes went into effect on Dec. 20, monitors in North Birmingham captured some 45 micrograms.

While no Shelby County site has ever failed the particle test, both counties are grouped together as part of the metro-area.

The county does have the area&8217;s only monitor that consistently violates the Environmental Protection Agency&8217;s standards for ozone.

Measurements from Helena are usually always over the 15 micrograms allowed. Unlike the daily tests for fine particles, ozone pollution is measured only during the summer.

Ron Gore, air division chief of the state Department of Environmental Management, said the EPA has not formally named Shelby County as an area of &8220;non-attainment&8221; for ozone pollution. Instead, he said the federal government is allowing the state to work on a clean-up plan. &8220;We fell back from meeting the standards and now we get to achieve reductions and the EPA will leave us in a limbo status,&8221; said Gore.

Gore said the &8220;limbo status&8221; gives the state time to address the violations, which he hopes will be solved by the end of spring. &8220;This will give us time to fix the ozone problem,&8221; Gore said. &8220;Like speed limits, if you are over by one, then you are over.&8221;

Robert Kelley, Shelby County environmental services manager, said there was little the county could do and that the issue must be addressed on the state level