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Stricter ozone rules on the way

Wed., April 21, 2010

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane, Kootenai counties might exceed new limits

Stricter smog limits could put Spokane and Kootenai counties in violation of federal ozone standards.

By early summer, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expects to announce new limits for ozone – a pollutant triggered by sunlight mixing with motor vehicle exhaust and vapors from paints and solvents. Other Northwest metro areas could be in violation as well, said Dennis McLerran, the EPA’s regional administrator in Seattle.

“We’re seeing areas that have been in compliance in the past now being challenged,” McLerran told reporters this week during a conference call.

The new standard could be as low as 60 parts per billion or as high as 70 parts per billion. During the Bush administration, ozone limits were set at 75 parts per billion, which was counter to scientific recommendations for protecting human health.

Smog levels in Spokane and Kootenai counties were measured at 64 parts per billion from 2006 to 2008, according to a Green Bluff monitor that records levels for both counties. The metro areas of Seattle-Tacoma, Portland-Vancouver and Boise could be out of compliance as well, depending on where the new standard is set.

Noncompliant areas would have to develop plans for meeting the ozone limits. Communities could require the sale of cleaner gasoline, McLerran said. Restricting outdoor burning, which also contributes to ozone, and tightening controls on automotive paint shops, power plants and other industries are other options.

EPA officials say the new limits will cost tens of millions of dollars to implement nationally but will reduce emergency room visits, premature deaths and number of sick days.

“Our whole objective is to have healthy air for all of our citizens,” McLerran said. “As the science changes around air quality, we’re seeing health impacts at lower concentrations.”

Shortness of breath, coughing and painful inhalation are possible effects from ozone exposure. Long-term exposure can also lead to bronchitis, heart attacks, pneumonia, lung disease and asthma, according to the American Lung Association.

Poor air quality hinders economic development as well as public health, McLerran said. Businesses don’t want to set up shop in locales with pollution problems.

“If you’re not in attainment,” he said, “your desirability goes down a notch in terms of where people want to locate their company.”

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