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EPA: Clark County air plan acceptable

Agency signs off on strategy for maintaining air quality standards

The EPA has accepted Clark County’s plan to maintain ozone level standards, but more stringent standards have yet to be applied. County officials say these new standards are close to being met. —— Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons’
January 14, 2013
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has signed off on County plans for maintaining the agency's 1997 national ambient air quality standard for ozone levels.

The decision will be official when it is published in the Federal Register, which is expected to happen in late January. The designation of attainment for the 1997 standard will remain in effect through 2022.

"This is really good news, but we can't let our guard down," said Commission Chair Susan Brager. "We all have to do our part to ensure that we continue to keep ozone levels depressed, especially during the warm-weather months, when ozone levels are at their highest."

Officials determined that improvement in air quality is the result of local, state and federal measures. Measures involve the use of cleaner fuel, federal requirements for low-emission vehicles, local improvements in public transportation and road construction, and greater understanding about the public's role in fighting ground-level ozone.

Unhealthy doses of ground-level ozone can reduce lung function and worsen respiratory illnesses such as asthma or bronchitis. Exposure to ozone also can induce coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, even in healthy people. When ozone levels are elevated, officials advise everyone to limit strenuous outdoor activity.

Ozone season arrives in May each year and county officials issue a season-long advisory, which remains in effect through September. During this time, weather conditions and pollutants can trigger a build-up of ground-level ozone during afternoon hours due to a combination of factors, including strong sunlight, hot temperatures, and pollutants from automobiles and other sources such as wildfires, as well as air blown into the valley from Southern California.

The County met the five criteria for designation of attainment: (1) Having met the 1997 8-hour ozone national ambient air quality standards, which is 84 parts per billion (ppb), (2) that relevant portions of the State Implementation Plan are fully approved, (3) that improvement in air quality is due to "permanent and enforceable reductions in emissions," (4) that all requirements have met the pertinent parts of the Clean Air Act, and (5) that the County has a fully approved Ozone Maintenance Plan.

While County officials say the move is significant, even stricter ground-level ozone standards are being proposed. In 2008, the EPA adopted a new, more stringent standard for ozone of 75 ppb. Air quality officials say the county is very close to exceeding the new standard.

"We meet the new health-based standard for ozone, but just barely," said Lewis Wallenmeyer, director of the County's Department of Air Quality. "We need to remain vigilant in our efforts to reduce ozone pollution."

Air quality officials encourage residents to sign-up for free text and e-mail advisories and air quality forecasts through the department's EnviroFlash service at The service has more than 2,100 subscribers. Daily air quality reports and forecasts also are posted on the Department of Air Quality website.

Five-day forecasts cover ozone as well as carbon monoxide and dust. Air quality officials also send advisories to local media, schools, government jurisdictions and the National Weather Service if weather conditions and other factors seem likely to trigger the formation of a pollutant of concern in the valley.

Alerts are posted on the forecast page if any of the department's 11 monitoring stations detect unhealthy levels of the pollutant at a single site in the valley over a specific period of time set by the EPA.

Local air quality has improved significantly since July 2001 when the County Commission was designated as the air pollution control agency for Southern Nevada. In 1985 the valley logged a record 41 unhealthy air days due to carbon monoxide.

In January 1993 the area was designated as serious non-attainment for particulate matter (PM-10), a form of dust pollution. The County now meets health standards for carbon monoxide and PM-10.

At this time, unhealthy levels of air pollution are not occurring. Air Quality officials will continue to monitor conditions and will post an alert on the forecast page of the DAQ website if unhealthy levels occur.

The following actions help reduce the formation of ground-level ozone:

* Fill up your gas tank after sunset.

* Plan errands so they can be done in one trip.

* Try not to spill gasoline when filling up, and don't top off your gas tank.

* Keep your car well maintained.

* Use mass transit or carpool.

* Don't idle your car engine unnecessarily.

* Walk or ride your bike whenever practical and safe.

* Turn off lights and electronics when not in use. Less fuel burned at power plants means cleaner air.

* Consider low-maintenance landscaping that uses less water and doesn't require the use of gas- powered lawn tools to maintain.

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