Inside Report: EPA: Ozone standards not enough

A science panel advising the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on possible tougher standards on ozone pollution has come out with recommendations that could put much of the state out of compliance.

The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee Ozone Review Panel, which released its recommendations in late June, says the ozone standard should be set at between 60 and 70 parts per billion, much like it stated in 2006.

However, in this latest recommendation, the advisory committee states that 70 ppb may not be low enough.

“Although a level of 70 ppb is more protective of public health than the current standard, it may not meet the statutory requirement to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety,” according to the committee’s June 26 letter to EPA.

Mike McDaniel, executive director of the Baton Rouge Clean Air Coalition, said EPA is expected to propose a new standard later this year that is likely to be lower than the current 75 ppb. The Baton Rouge five-parish area just met the 75 ppb standard in late 2013 — about two years ahead of schedule. Although EPA officials have applauded the accomplishment, it will be months before the official redesignation of the Baton Rouge area to “attainment.”

It’s possible the Baton Rouge area will get its official redesignation that it has met the standard just as the standard gets tougher to meet, putting the area right back out of compliance.

As of June, four monitors in the state wouldn’t meet a standard of 70 ppb, which would mean several other metropolitan statistical areas also wouldn’t meet the new standard. Baton Rouge’s five-parish area would be joined by the New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner area as being out of compliance.

If the standard is lowered to 65 ppb, the Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux region, the Lake Charles area, Lafayette area and the Shreveport-Bossier City area would also be out of compliance. At 60 ppb, the only area that wouldn’t be out of compliance, according to information as of June, would be the Monroe area of Union and Ouachita parishes.

However, because summer is the prime time for ozone formation, all of that could change by the end of the year. What won’t change is that the lower the standard is set, the more parishes in the state will join the Baton Rouge area in its long-standing work to reduce ozone.

DEQ staff has worked with local governments around the state in joining the EPA’s Advance Program designed to help get parishes started on reducing ozone-forming pollution before any new standards come in.

As the five-parish Baton Rouge area learned over the years, once an area misses deadlines and fails to meet the standard on time, new measures such as vehicle emission inspections are put in place. Once those measures are implemented, they can’t be removed, according to the Clean Air Act.

Ozone is not a form of pollution that is released into the air directly. Instead, it is created when nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons from industry, car exhaust and other sources combine in the air through a chemical reaction during hot and sunny days.

When there isn’t much wind, the ozone that has formed can accumulate in an area and lead to breathing or other health problems.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.