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Area's air quality gets an ‘F’ in new report

By Sam Shawver, sshawver@mariettatimes.com

Times file photo

Amid interstate signs and business signs near the I-77 interchange at Exit 1, traffic moves along busy Pike Street. Pollution from vehicles is one of the reasons the area’s air got a grade of “F” in a new report.

Washington County has received another failing grade in the subject of air quality, according to the American Lung Association's "State of the Air 2007" report card released on Tuesday.

Fifteen out of 34 Ohio counties tested showed decreases in the levels of ozone pollution, improving their air quality report card grades from "F" to "D" or "C" over last year. Lawrence County in southern Ohio made the greatest stride, moving from an "F" to a "B."

But particle pollution, from microscopic particles released by smokestacks and vehicle exhaust, increased in eight counties, according to the 2007 report.

Lorain County's grade for particle pollution dropped from an “A” in 2006 to a "D" in 2007, although during the same period Lorain’s ozone pollution grade climbed from an "F" to a "D."

Washington County's "F" for ozone pollution remained the same as in 2006. (Particle pollution is not measured in the county due to a lesser density of population compared to other areas of the state.)

"I'm concerned about the local air quality," said David Thayer, 44, as he assembled a tandem bicycle in Muskingum Park, readying for a Rivertrail ride with his 6-year-old daughter, Abigail, on Tuesday afternoon. Originally from the Akron area, Thayer has lived in the Mid-Ohio Valley for the last 15 years.

"Since I moved down here, I've had trouble with allergies and sinus infections. I've heard people call it 'the Mid-Ohio Valley creeping crud,'" he said. "My 14-year-old daughter also has had a lot of sinus problems and ear infections."

"I think the air quality issue is something that does need to be addressed," said Scot Monaghan, owner of Barking Dog Books and Art on Front Street. "I don't believe that industries are doing this on purpose to harm people, but I think the EPA needs to enforce what they already have on the books.

"If air quality improvements can be done elsewhere in the state, why can't we do it here?" Monaghan asked.

A good question, according to Shelly Kiser, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association of Ohio.

"This report means that more people in Washington County have a health risk from breathing ozone," she said. "Ozone has been referred to as causing 'sunburn' in the lungs. Especially at risk are people with any kind of lung problems."

Out of Washington County's estimated population of 62,210, those most at risk from ozone pollution include 1,195 children with pediatric asthma; 3,839 adult asthma patients; 2,065 people with chronic bronchitis; 987 emphysema sufferers; 17,152 persons with cardiovascular disease; and 4,027 diabetics.

Also at risk are people younger than 18, and seniors older than 65.

"Ohio's worst problems come from coal-fired power plants and diesel-powered trucks and buses," Kiser said.

Eric Fitch, director of the environmental science program at Marietta College, agreed, and noted that although Washington County may not be tested for particulate pollution, the particles are still here.

"We have plants up and down the Ohio River that burn coal," he said. "And they emit extremely small particles that are so tiny they can pass through the lung/blood barrier in our bodies.

"Unfortunately we don't have data for the particulates because the testing agencies don't have enough money, so they usually study the most populated areas of the state," Fitch explained.

He said there may be some hope on the horizon for reducing the pollution.

"A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision could make a difference, if the Bush administration will move," Fitch said.

He explained that when the Clean Air Act was passed in the 1970s, there were a lot of coal-fired plants across the nation. But legislators knew those facilities only had a limited operational lifetime.

"Instead of making each plant retrofit to meet the new requirements, they were grandfathered in and allowed to buy pollution credits, etc., when they should have gone out of business," Fitch said.

Utility companies began upgrading everything inside many of those facilities except the outside "shell," claiming that the plants should still be covered under the grandfather clause.

"But the Supreme Court has now said 'no' to those companies," Fitch said. "That's an important ruling for the Ohio Valley."

He said American Electric Power has already announced it is adding new emission controls to its Muskingum River facilities.

"I think they saw the writing on the wall," Fitch said. "The case has already been decided by the court, now we're just waiting for the Bush administration to get off its backside and do something."

Speaking of ozone pollution, Fitch said people are often confused because scientists are constantly speaking about the need to preserve the Earth's ozone layer in the upper atmosphere.

"A simple way to understand it is, up high ozone is good; down here it's bad," he said. "Up high ozone makes up one of the onion-like layers of protection that shields us from damaging solar radiation.

"But at ground level ozone is bad because its reactive molecules are out of place," Fitch said. "It not only affects humans, but can also damage crops, trees, and even materials like paint."

Kiser said one way people can help reduce the effects of ozone and particle pollution is to urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set new standards that would better protect public health as required by the Clean Air Act.

"The American Lung Association is fighting for adequate funding in Ohio and tougher federal standards because they protect Americans from dangerous levels of air pollution," she said. "Air pollution shortens lifespans, it lands our children and elderly in hospital emergency rooms, and it can make children and teens more vulnerable to lung disease for the rest of their lives."

To view grades for air quality in this and other communities, and to learn how to protect yourself and your family from air pollution, see the American Lung Association “State of the Air 2007” report at www.ohiolung.org/SOTA2007.htm.

 

 

 

 












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