The Environmental Protection Agency’s plan is aimed at further reducing particle pollution, including soot, that can penetrate into lungs and contribute to heart attacks, strokes and acute bronchitis, in addition to aggravated asthma among children.
Under the agency’s existing rule, adopted in 1997, particle pollution is limited to 15 micrograms per cubic meter on an annual average. The new standard would be set between 12 and 13 micrograms per cubic meter.
Augusta-Richmond County Planning Director Paul DeCamp, who is also a member of the CSRA Air Quality Alliance, said recent averages in this area already meet the new standard, thanks to pollution-reduction efforts already in place.
“In looking at our records, it doesn’t seem to indicate the proposed change in the standards would result in a non-attainment designation for our area,” he said.
According to Georgia Environmental Protection Division monitors, particulate levels in Augusta averaged slightly above 15 micrograms per cubic meter from 2003 to 2007 but have declined each year since to about 12 micrograms per cubic meter.
Efforts that have reduced local pollution include a May-to-October ban on outdoor burning.
Levels of another key pollutant – ground level ozone, which causes smog – have also declined in recent years.
The federal ozone standard of 75 parts per billion over an eight-hour average is close to being tightened to 70 parts per billion.
Although both Richmond and Columbia counties have flirted with non-attainment in past years, the downward trend in ozone levels has yielded 2011 levels of 70 parts per billion in Augusta and 67 parts per billion in Evans. Aiken County monitors in Trenton and Jackson yielded levels of 67 and 63 parts per billion, respectively.