Augusta air pollution levels continue to decline

Air quality continues to improve in Augusta, making it less likely that the region will fail tougher new standards for ozone and other pollutants.

“The great news is, our air continues to get cleaner and cleaner,” said Myra Reece, the Air Quality Bureau director for the South Caro­lina De­partment of Health and Environ­mental Control.

Speaking Tuesday to members of the CSRA Air Quality Alliance, Reece said air monitors in Aiken County – and in Richmond and Columbia counties – continued to show lower pollution levels throughout 2011, despite one of the hottest summers on record.

Ozone, a component of smog, contributes to a variety of ailments, including heart problems, asthma and other lung disorders. The U.S. Clean Air Act standard of 75 parts per billion over an eight-hour average is in the final stages of 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 is positive news, said Jimmy Johnston, the manager of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s Air Quality Planning Section.

Citing 2011 data gathered from air monitors at Georgia Health Sciences University, Bungalow Road Elementary School and a government building in Evans, Johnston said the region yielded ozone levels of 70 parts per billion in Augusta and 67 parts per billion in Evans.

“We expect it to kind of stay there, and hopefully, even go down a little bit more,” he said.

South Carolina maintains two air monitors in the area, said Clay Lawson, an environmental health manager in DHEC’s Data Analysis & Support Section. The ozone monitor in Trenton yielded 67 parts per billion in 2011, and a monitor in Jackson yielded 63 parts per billion.

“So we are doing well here, and well below the standard,” he told the stakeholders’ group, which met at the ADP building in Augusta. “Even with two really hot summers in a row, we’re not seeing the pattern we saw in past years.”

The Air Quality Alliance is working with local governments to reduce air pollution, in anticipation of stricter standards to be implemented soon by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Local programs already in effect include a May-October burning ban to reduce emissions during the hottest, ozone-prone months, and technology to synchronize traffic signals to reduce engine idling and improve the flow of vehicles.

Under development are plans for park-and-ride carpooling, education programs to get corporations to adopt fleetwide idle-reduction policies and efforts to persuade residents to exchange gasoline lawn mowers for electric ones.

The EPA will move forward this year with the new ozone standard, said Joel Huey, of the EPA’s Region IV Regulatory Development Section.

After the new limits are designated, states with noncomplying areas will have three years to submit a compliance plan and five more years to achieve attainment, he said.

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