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Good news about ozone

By Paul Kita,

Levels of a dangerous pollutant have decreased during the past six years in the Marietta area and are prompting state environmental officials to ask for a better classification for the region.

Three-year averages for ozone levels around Parkersburg and Marietta dropped below the upper limit of 85 parts per billion in the last two periods monitored, said Laura Crowder, a technical analyst for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

The change is prompting requests for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to remove Wood and Washington counties from a list of regions that did not attain the standard, according to Crowder and Bill Spires, manager of the state implementation plan section of the Ohio EPA’s Division of Air Pollution Control.

“It means the area is attaining the health-based standard for ozone,” Crowder said.

Spires said the state agencies are working together to make sure their numbers are consistent.

“U.S. EPA would like to be able to redesignate an entire metropolitan statistical area at the same time,” Spires said.

Wood and Washington counties have been cited in recent years as having some of the worst air in the nation.

Ozone, which has three oxygen atoms instead of the two found in normal oxygen molecules, is the main ingredient in smog and aggravates diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

It is formed by atmospheric reactions between different pollutants, with heat an important factor, Crowder said.

“It’s a summertime pollutant,” she said.

From 2001-03, the average ozone level in Wood County was 87 parts per billion, Crowder said. From 2002-04, the level was 82 ppb, dropping to 78 ppb for the 2003-05 period.

In Washington County, the 2002-04 level was 83 ppb and the 2003-05 level was 81 ppb, according to West Virginia DEP documents.

Lower ozone levels are good news, said Barbara Stewart, member of Neighbors for Clean Air.

“It’s rare we hear of that,” Stewart said, later adding, “But I think we have a long way to go.”

Stewart said Neighbors for Clean Air is still concerned about the emission of manganese, chromium dust and other chemicals in Marietta’s air.

Eric Fitch, director of Marietta College’s environmental science program, said he was not sure exactly what caused the reduction of ozone levels.

“I know some of the plants have put on some pollution controls that may have marginally decreased the ozone levels, but nothing I am aware of that could have caused such a jump,” Fitch said.

The Mid-Ohio Valley’s coal and other petrochemical plants, combined with sunlight, create ozone, but environmental variations can upset the balance and decrease production, Fitch said.

Crowder said there were reductions on both sides of the Ohio River, but the largest came from power plants in Ohio. A major contribution to this was the EPA’s call to reduce levels of nitrogen oxide emitted by power plants, she said.

American Electric Power’s Muskingum River plant complied with the rule by installing a selective catalytic reduction system that went online in the summer of 2005, AEP spokeswoman Melissa McHenry said.

“The SCRs achieve upwards of 90 percent reduction,” she said. “It would have made a significant reduction in NOx emissions last year.”

Spires said another major contributor was American Municipal Power of Ohio’s Gorsuch plant west of Belpre.

Another component in ozone is the amount of volatile organic compounds or hydrocarbons. Those amounts decrease as people replace their older cars with newer models that have lower emission standards, Spires said.

Fitch said he has not looked at the data, but the lower levels do not mean the area will automatically be taken off the nonattainment list.

“They’re not just going to look at your numbers,” he said. “This is really, in a sense, the first car in a long train.”

Fitch said the EPA also will examine how the data was gathered and proposed plans for keeping the levels down.

“I know a lot of people who may not have the instrumentation but they certainly have the experience to say air quality has not improved,” he said.

Public comments on the DEP’s request were being accepted until last week, when a hearing was held Thursday at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Council in Parkersburg. Data, including the request and maintenance proposal, can be viewed online at, under the public notice and comment section on the Division of Air Quality’s page.



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