Originally created 09/26/03

Augusta ozone levels improve



For the first time in recent memory, Augusta has logged a perfect score in air quality, finishing out the hot summer months without a single day in which ozone exceeded public health standards.

Still, the Georgia Public Interest Group warned Thursday that the welcome respite is because of wetter, cooler weather - and not the demise of coal-fired power plants and automobiles that helped create the problem.

"This year, all throughout the Southeast, we had a much cooler and wetter summer," said Megan Fitzgerald, PIRG's air program associate. "We believe smog will rise back to dangerous levels as soon as the weather heats up."

Georgia's Environmental Protection Division recorded 66 instances in 2002 in which ozone exceeded federal standards, including seven violations in Augusta. This year, there were 23 instances, with none found in Augusta.

Studies have shown that ozone can cause respiratory ailments and other health problems. New data on ozone-related illnesses have spawned stricter air-quality regulations in recent years.

"Smog triggers asthma attacks and sends hundreds of thousands of Americans to emergency rooms each year," Ms. Fitzgerald said, noting that air pollution is a national problem that reaches far beyond Augusta.

PIRG's annual air-quality study, Danger in the Air, found that 41 states recorded unhealthy air pollution levels in 2002, representing a 150 percent increase over 2001. The study, released Thursday, does not include a national glimpse into 2003 figures.

Smog in Georgia and the South comes mostly from automobile exhaust and industrial emissions dominated by coal-fired power plants. There are 11 such facilities in Georgia, Ms. Fitzgerald said.

Although 2003 has been a much cleaner year statewide, the factors that create the pollution remain very much in place, she said.

"There are a few smaller, local initiatives for cleaner air," she said. "But overall, a lot of the pollution is still coming from large, dirty cars and coal-fired power plants - and none of those are cleaned up."

AIR QUALITY

Excessive ozone days in Georgia:

YEAR

--2003

2002

--2001

-2000

1999

Augusta

--0

--7

3

--6

-9

Athens

2

-(no data)

Atlanta

--13

38

--20

-46

69

Columbus

--2

--9

11

Macon

-1

--7

6

-17

14

N. Georgia

6

-11

5

-16

11

Savannah

--0

--1

-3

S. Central--1

--1

2

--6

-5

S. Coastal--0

--0

1

--0

-1

TOTALS

-23

-66

--37

101--123

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.