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Ozarks, Springfield ‘attain’ new EPA Ozone Standard

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a revised Ground-Level Ozone standard (effective today, Oct. 1, 2015). The Ground-Level Ozone standard is a standard established by EPA under the Clean Air Act of the early 1970’s. Under the 45-year old law, EPA is required to review the existing standards in light of new research information gained in the years between periodic assessments of the effects of ground-level ozone on human health and the environment at the local and regional level.

The Springfield region is officially at 68 parts per billion (PPB), though the values are expected to be lowered to 61 PPB once the 2013-2015 readings are certified. The Ozone standard was last revised in 2008 to a level of 75 parts per billion. The EPA has proposed a new standard of 70 parts per billion, calculated on a three-year rolling average and, while 2013-2015 regional readings remain preliminary – as of Sept. 30 – they appear to be at 61 parts per billion in the region, meaning the Ozarks would remain in compliance with the new standard.

Springfield/Greene County is currently listed “in attainment,” that is, meeting the standard. A designation of “non-attainment” would mean the region is out of compliance. Usually there are levels of severity determined with a non-attainment designation. The new level of impact would place new requirements on a region and require additional study before expanding or adding certain types of new businesses and roadway capacity. Once an area is considered in “non-attainment,” achieving the standard puts in place a 20-year maintenance plan before a region can exit the earlier status.

Is this good ozone or bad ozone?

Ozone is a complex inorganic molecule. Existing high in Earth’s atmosphere, it shields the us from the harmful rays of the sun. But at ground level, ozone can have a negative impact on both human and plant health. Though not all pollution can be seen, it can create harmful effects on the human body. The elderly, children, and other vulnerable populations feel the effects of air pollution at a much higher impact than the general population.

At ground-level, ozone is not emitted from a single source. It is the formed by the interaction of several pollutants reacting with heat, especially over the course of the day. Thus, levels tend to be higher during summer months.

Contributors include nitrous oxide (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that accumulate during the day. As temperatures warm, these elements combine to form ozone. Many ozone-related prevention strategies may even mention evening activities.

Some natural sources also contribute to the formation of ground level ozone. When coupled with well-known pollutants, these can add difficulty to the challenge of maintaining air quality. In the Ozarks, mobile sources (automobiles, buses, trucks, inboard/outboard motors and other gasoline-powered engines) account for nearly half of all contributing emissions – our “primary sources.”

Springfield, Greene County and City Utilities of Springfield have been taking proactive steps for several years to protect air quality and avoid nonattainment status for ground-level ozone, including the creation of Ozarks Clean Air Alliance (OCAA).

Formed in 2007, OCAA serves an 11-county region. OCAA started in 2007 as a subcommittee of the Environmental Collaborative at the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, the organization has grown into a coalition of  stakeholders, including city, county, and state officials, local businesses and non-profits, area utility companies, and interested citizens.

OCAA has produced a Clean Air Action Plan, adopted in 2009, at first addressed only ground level ozone pollutant concerns. The plan and the efforts of  OCAA have expanded to include particulate matter (another regulated pollutant). The Clean Air Action Plan now serves as the “Path Forward Document” for both proactive EPA Ozone Advance and Particulate Matter (PM) Advance Programs.

Typically, coal-fired power plants continue to be major contributors to ground level ozone; however, City Utilities of Springfield has made strides in reducing emissions in the Ozarks.

Mobile and industrial sources, including utility boilers, emit NOx and VOC emissions, precursors to ozone formation under specific atmospheric conditions. City Utilities and its customers have invested in air quality in the region by significantly reducing emissions.

CU has helped the Springfield-Greene County region meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) even while power generation and customer demand has continued to increase. Since 1988, as federal regulatory pressures move the goalposts, CU has decreased its overall emissions by nearly 82 percent with power generation requirements increasing over 80 percent.

Additionally, CU and its customers have invested more than $150 million in emission control technology and currently has purchased power agreements in place totaling $10 million that include wind and solar generation.

Other preventative activities performed by OCAA member organizations:

  • Development and implementation approved formal and non-formal educational materials for air quality education, including teachers’ workshops.
  • Website development/management: showmecleanair.com.
  • Management of a regional rides-haring program for both employers and the general public or ozarkscommute.com.
  • Coordination with Missouri Department of Transportation to utilize electronic road signs
  • Support of the local municipally-owned utility air quality protection efforts, including promotion of solar power.
  • Support of the region’s continued build-out of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, which boasts over 100 miles of trails, and a goal of 10 miles of new sidewalk each year.
  • Inclusion of air quality protection efforts as a component of the Ozarks GreenScore voluntary sustainability program which rates and provides technical assistance to local businesses.
  • Local participation in the Missouri PACE (Property Assessed Clean
    Energy) program providing funding sources for energy efficiency capital improvements.
  • Promotion of a model no-idle policy for local governments and businesses.
  • Support of the City of Springfield Air Quality protection program following loss of state funding for local regulatory efforts, including Stage One Vapor Recovery requirements.
  • Securing EPA Diesel Emission Reduction Assistance (DERA) grants used to retrofit and or replace school buses, diesel trucks and related vehicles.

As we have seen in our water quality protection efforts, the Ozarks tends to be ahead of many areas in the country in that our public infrastructure is in place, leaving additional gains to be made to come from the “smaller” or “nonpoint” sources. In the case of air quality, those sources are cars, trucks, even lawn mowers.

Here are sources of information for all of the Ozarks:

  • Watch for daily air quality level predictions: enviroflash.info.
  • Missouri Department of Natural Resources Air Quality Program Web site: dnr.mo.gov.
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Ozone Web site: epa.gov/air.
  • Ozarks Clean Air Alliance: showmecleanair.com. Contact: Natasha Longpine, 417-865-3042, Ext. 103 or Barbara Lucks, 417-864-2005.
  • City Utilities of Springfield: cityutilities.net. Contact: Joel Alexander, 417-831-8902.
  • Ozarks Transportation Organization: ozarkstransportation.org. Contact: Natasha Longpine, 417-865-3042, Ext. 103.
  • City of Springfield Dept. of Environmental Services – Air Quality Section: springfieldmo.gov/airquality. Contact: Brian Adams, 417-864-1412.
  • Real-time air quality readings: airnow.gov.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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