Douglas County residents are being urged to stop cranking up lawnmowers, firing up chainsaws or taking a whirl in their antique cars on the hottest days of the year - and not just because the physical activity might cause a heart attack.
Such engine-driven activities are boosting the countyÃ¢ÂÂs ozone concentration closer to the federal limit for air pollution, a barrier that - once crossed - could trigger an avalanche of requirements for the use of reformulated gasolines, retrofitted fuel pumps and major equipment upgrades for industries in Lawrence.
Ã¢ÂÂIt has very serious economic repercussions if we donÃ¢ÂÂt stay in compliance,Ã¢ÂÂ said Charles Jones, a county commissioner and former director of environment for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Ã¢ÂÂIt could mean tens of millions of dollars - and a lot of heartache.Ã¢ÂÂ
The countyÃ¢ÂÂs air quality has been under the microscope since last year, when commissioners convened a committee to monitor area ozone levels in relation to new federal standards required by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The regulations go into effect in April 2004, and thereÃ¢ÂÂs been talk of the county being included in the Kansas City metropolitan statistical area for air-quality purposes.
In the minds of Jones and other county officials, such a move would be catastrophic. Air in the Kansas City area, including Johnson and Wyandotte counties, already has tested beyond the EPA threshold for ozone.
Next year, commissioners intend to consider creating a public-private partnership to spend about $30,000 to continue air-quality testing in the county. They hope hard data about the countyÃ¢ÂÂs cleaner-than-Kansas City air could help persuade EPA officials to keep its regulations at bay.
At least for a while.
In testing during the heat of August, a monitoring station found that Douglas CountyÃ¢ÂÂs ozone level Ã¢ÂÂkissedÃ¢ÂÂ the EPA limit of 84 parts per billion, said Bert Rowell, a committee leader and a member of the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Board.
If such results were repeated often enough to maintain an eight-hour average four times in a calendar year, he said, the county would be in the regulatory hot zone.
Ã¢ÂÂWe got rather close,Ã¢ÂÂ Rowell said. Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs too close to the EPA cut-off point to be complacent.Ã¢ÂÂ
ThatÃ¢ÂÂs why Rowell and others are encouraging Lawrence-area residents to do what they can to cut down on ozone voluntarily. Because ozone production is highest on the hottest days, Rowell recommends that people wait until dusk to mow their lawns, run chainsaws or start antique cars that arenÃ¢ÂÂt equipped with modern emissions-reducing equipment.
He said he hoped the county would open a mutually beneficial dialogue with businesses and industries whose emissions also help build up ozone in the atmosphere.
Commissioner Bob Johnson, well-aware of the economic costs associated with additional regulations and poor air quality, is ready to move ahead with a cooperative effort.
Ã¢ÂÂMaybe together we can arrive at a plan,Ã¢ÂÂ he said.
Among the area businesses experienced with the costs of compliance is Scotch Fabric Care Services. The Lawrence-based cleaning company spent about $400,000 in the late 1980s to outfit its dry-cleaning plants with Ã¢ÂÂtotally enclosedÃ¢ÂÂ cleaning systems, which prevent solvent vapors from leeching into the atmosphere and producing ozone.
That means the company already complies with all components of the Clean Air Act, said Scott Shmalberg, Scotch president. And that means new rules in the Lawrence area wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt cost him more to install new equipment.
His main worry: more paperwork.
For a plant in Kansas City, Mo., Shmalberg recalls having to complete a survey nearly 2 inches thick. It asked for information on everything from production capacity to the exact location of the building.
Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs not just the address,Ã¢ÂÂ he said. Ã¢ÂÂThey say they need the longitude and latitude of the plant. We had to hire a company with one of those geo-satellite positioning devices to come take an exact reading on our plant, at our expense.
Ã¢ÂÂIt just becomes an endless paperwork stream. Quarterly reports. Annual reports. ItÃ¢ÂÂs just a lot of paperwork.Ã¢ÂÂ
Scott Zaremba, vice president of Lawrence-based Zaroco Inc., also understands the bite of such regulations. He owns two service stations in Olathe, where heÃ¢ÂÂs been required to sell reformulated gasoline during the summer for the past several years.
From April 15 through Sept. 15, heÃ¢ÂÂll be pumping the reduced-vapor-pressure gasoline, about 3 million gallonsÃ¢ÂÂ worth, at an additional cost of some 2 cents to 3 cents per gallon.
Ã¢ÂÂWe want to keep the air we breathe clean, but we need those areas that are causing the problems do something about it,Ã¢ÂÂ said Zaremba, who serves on the countyÃ¢ÂÂs Air Quality Advisory Committee. Ã¢ÂÂThey need to clean up their own act.
Ã¢ÂÂIf you draw in Douglas County, itÃ¢ÂÂll cost the consumer. ItÃ¢ÂÂll cost everyone. ItÃ¢ÂÂs just another expense theyÃ¢ÂÂll put on us when we didnÃ¢ÂÂt do anything. We didnÃ¢ÂÂt create it, it wasnÃ¢ÂÂt our problem, and they want to draw us in.Ã¢ÂÂ
Julie Coleman, district environmental administrator for KDHE in Lawrence, said automobiles, trucks and other vehicles caused the majority of the areaÃ¢ÂÂs ozone production. But regulating such sources remains the most difficult to accomplish.
Ã¢ÂÂThose are the hardest to control because you have to get right down to regulating - either directly or indirectly - the vehicles themselves,Ã¢ÂÂ she said. Ã¢ÂÂAnd anything from requiring reformulated gasolines to requiring the annual inspection of those vehicles can be unpopular at best and difficult to do.Ã¢ÂÂ
Rowell, a retired Kansas University geology professor, said he remained Ã¢ÂÂmoderately optimisticÃ¢ÂÂ about the countyÃ¢ÂÂs prospects for not being dragged into the Kansas City areaÃ¢ÂÂs air-quality quandary.
But that doesnÃ¢ÂÂt mean heÃ¢ÂÂll let his concerns vaporize.
Ã¢ÂÂWe have problems, not a crisis,Ã¢ÂÂ Rowell said. Ã¢ÂÂI think we can still do something about it.Ã¢ÂÂ