On the road:
¢ Ride the bus or carpool
¢ Gas up your vehicle at night
¢ Keep your car properly maintained and tuned
¢ Repair all vehicle leaks
¢ Keep tires properly inflated
¢ Drive the speed limit
¢ Combine errands in one trip
¢ Conserve energy
¢ Paint with water-based paints
¢ Plant trees
¢ Keep lawn mowers tuned up
¢ Use and store solvents wisely
¢ Keep fireplaces and wood stoves well-maintained
- Source: Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department
Health officials are on alert, as the air quality in the Lawrence area flirts with a new ozone standard that could have significant economic consequences for Douglas County if breached.
In March, the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the national smog standards to a level that the Lawrence area, historically, has barely met, according to health leaders.
"That is a big concern," said Richard Ziesenis, Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department director of environmental health.
The EPA tightened the amount of ozone, commonly known as smog, allowed in the air to no more than 75 parts per billion, compared with the old maximum standard of 84. In 2006, measurements from a monitor at the Lawrence Airport came in at 72 parts per billion. In 2005, the average sat at 73.
"We would've still been in compliance, but barely," Ziesenis said.
Ozone, a colorless gas formed by a chemical reaction in the atmosphere, can harm people's lungs. The EPA strengthened its standards, in part, to prevent cases of bronchitis and aggravated asthma, hospital and emergency room visits, nonfatal heart attacks and premature death.
The EPA has faced scrutiny for the new limits because an EPA science advisory board had recommended a limit of 60 to 70 parts per billion to protect vulnerable groups, especially children, the elderly and people suffering from asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
Communities nationwide have until March 2010 to meet the new EPA standard. If they don't, the government would be required to use environmental controls to reduce local ozone emissions, and in a worse-case scenario federal highway funding could be cut and a moratorium could be placed on some new industry coming into the county, Ziesenis said.
"These controls would likely have significant economic and economic development impacts," said Donna Bell, Lawrence-Douglas County Health Board chairwoman, in a letter to elected Lawrence and Douglas County leaders.
Meeting the standard
The Lawrence airport monitor, which gauged the amount of ozone in the air, was removed in 2006 after the reading seemed satisfactory at the time. Presently, there's no way to determine how much ozone is in the local air, but leaders must be prepared for the monitor to be reinstalled by the state at any time.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment is waiting to hear from the EPA about how extensive the state's monitoring network needs to be under the more stringent standards, said Tom Gross, air monitoring and planning chief for KDHE's bureau of air and radiation.
"Many of the midsize metropolitan areas across the country are going to have to worry about whether or not they're going to meet the standard," he said. "It's going to be challenging to meet."
Measurements from multiple monitors in the Kansas City region aren't meeting the new regulation, and a few didn't meet the old one, Gross said. The ozone numbers are measured from a three-year average. The fourth-highest measurement between April 1 and Oct. 31, known as ozone season, for the last three years is averaged.
"They violated the 85 last season," Gross said. "That triggered us to put in some new requirements for the Kansas City area : in order to reduce emissions further."
To ensure the Lawrence area doesn't meet the same fate, the health department board has asked the city and county governments to take steps to raise awareness about reducing emissions, so it can remain in compliance with the new EPA standards, which haven't been revised in more than a decade.
"Probably the biggest concern we have in Douglas County is the commuter traffic," said Ziesenis, of the health department. "That's the biggest contributor that private citizens have any control over, that they can reduce."
Ziesenis encourages commuters to join a car pool. Other ways individuals can help reduce ozone is by refueling their automobiles after dark, mowing their lawns as late in the day as possible, and not idling their vehicle any longer than necessary, Ziesenis said. Ozone forms in the hottest time of the year when the air is still.
"You try to reduce the levels of ozone in the peak times of the afternoon, when the temperature is at its highest," said Ziesenis. "It's just the highest reactive period."
Local governments have already made efforts to cut down on ozone emissions generated by government employees. Lawrence and Douglas County governments are working to retrofit some of their diesel trucks with mechanical devices that reduce pollution and emissions, Ziesenis said. He said the Lawrence school district had already retrofitted about 90 buses to help reduce ozone.
Ziesenis said Westar Energy's coal-fired plant in Lawrence certainly contributed to ozone, though the company had taken steps to reduce the emissions it produced.
"We've got several projects going at the Lawrence Energy Center," said Bill Eastman, of Westar Energy. "We're spending an awful lot of capital dollars to take care of emission reductions."