[StBernard] Ozone changes loom for New Orleans region

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Fri Jan 8 21:49:43 EST 2010

Ozone changes loom for New Orleans region
By Mark Schleifstein, The Times-Picayune
January 08, 2010, 7:28AM

The federal Environmental Protection Agency proposed major changes in the
regulation of ground-level ozone Thursday that would place much of the New
Orleans area out of compliance and could require new restrictions on
industry, small local businesses and vehicles, including emission

One part of the changes would also establish a seasonal ozone standard aimed
at protecting plants, including crops and wilderness areas. In Louisiana,
those areas overlap several of the parishes that would not be in compliance
with the new general ozone standard.

The rule changes reverse a 2008 Bush administration standard that lowered
permitted ozone levels, but not as far as recommended by EPA's expert
scientific panel.

Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality officials said Thursday that
even under the Bush standard of 75 parts per billion of ozone, Jefferson
Parish was likely to fall out of compliance this year, based on three years
of measurements at a monitoring station in Kenner.

It would have joined five parishes surrounding Baton Rouge that have
violated federal ozone standards for many years.

Jefferson would be joined by Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles,
St. John and St. Tammany parishes if EPA adopts the lowest ozone limit it
proposed Thursday.

"EPA is stepping up to protect Americans from one of the most persistent and
widespread pollutants we face, " EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, a native of
New Orleans, said in a statement announcing the proposal. "Smog in the air
we breathe poses a very serious health threat, especially to children and
individuals suffering from asthma and lung disease. It dirties our air,
clouds our cities, and drives up our health care costs across the country.

"Using the best science to strengthen these standards is a long overdue
action that will help millions of Americans breathe easier and live
healthier, " she said.

The new rules would set a maximum eight-hour limit on ozone between 60 parts
per billion and 70 parts per billion. The more complicated seasonal standard
would be set at between 7 and 15 parts per million hours, which is a
cumulative, weighted total of daily 12-hour ozone exposures of plant life
during a three-month period.

Health risks

Breathing air containing ozone can reduce lung function and inflame airways,
which can increase respiratory symptoms and aggravate asthma or other lung
diseases. Ozone exposure also has been associated with increased
susceptibility to respiratory infections, medication use, doctor visits, and
emergency room visits and hospital admissions for individuals with lung

Children are at increased risk from exposure to ozone because their lungs
are still developing and they are more likely to be active outdoors.

EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee's recommendations were based
on epidemiological and human clinical studies that showed ozone effects in
healthy adults at levels of 60 parts per billion.

EPA officials said scientific evidence also shows that repeated exposure to
ozone during the growing season damages plants.

The agency's proposal would designate areas that fall under the primary
ozone standard in two years, with the designations becoming effective by
August 2011. By December 2013, states would have to adopt implementation
plans to reduce ozone levels. Deadlines for meeting the primary standard
would be between 2014 and 2031 for each area, depending on the severity of
the local problem.

Ozone forms through a reaction of nitrogen oxides, volatile organic
compounds, carbon monoxide and methane in the presence of sunlight. The
chemicals come from car emissions, fuel and chemical sources in industry and
business, and from some natural sources, like the sap of pine trees.

It is generally at its highest levels in the New Orleans area on hot, summer
afternoons when high pressure systems limit the stirring of air.

Vehicle testing possible

In Baton Rouge, which has been struggling with EPA's repeated reductions in
ozone standard levels for many years, the state Department of Environmental
Quality has targeted chemical and refinery facilities, lowering the
ozone-causing chemicals they can release when the companies request changes
in emission permits.

It also has partnered with local governments to declare "ozone action days,
" when it asks industries to change schedules for loading volatile organic
chemicals or burning materials, and asks residents to delay buying gasoline
to nighttime or early morning hours, said Mike Vince, DEQ's assistant
administrator for air.

"Quite a few times we've called for ozone action days (and anticipated high
levels of smog) didn't materialize, " he said, the result of industries and
residents taking the warnings seriously.

Vince said DEQ officials met with local government and industry officials
throughout the New Orleans area last year to urge adoption of similar
measures after it became clear that Jefferson Parish might violate the
existing 75 parts per billion standard. But no parishes have adopted action
day programs here.

"We're going to have to propose new rules and expand the application of
existing rules into new areas to achieve the new standards, " he said.

In Jefferson Parish, for instance, those sources are likely to include both
air and vehicle traffic created by the airport and shopping areas in Kenner,
he said, which could result in a vehicle emission testing program.

More information about the EPA proposal, including instructions on how to
comment during the 60-day public comment period, is available on the Web at

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