State metro areas work to meet ozone standards

Although people in the Baton Rouge area are used to hearing about the ozone levels and taking action to meet federal ozone standards, much of it is a new concept in other areas of the state.

That’s because other parts of the state have traditionally met federal ozone pollution standards. But now with new, more stringent federal standards, some areas are getting close to falling out of compliance.

To help them stay in compliance, the state Department of Environmental Quality met Tuesday with representatives of businesses, governments and utilities from five metropolitan statistical areas: Lake Charles, New Orleans, Shreveport, Houma-Thibodaux and Baton Rouge.

“Every area doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said Michael Vince, senior scientist with DEQ.

The meeting was a way to get everyone together to get some consistency with how different areas report what they are doing and what they plan to do as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Ozone Advance program, Vince said.

“It would seem if we’re trying to pull together a comprehensive state plan, it would be really easy if all the (area) plans followed the same form,” Vince said.

Baton Rouge joined the Ozone Advance program before the metro area was designated as “marginal” under the new ozone standard, which is the least severe classification. It has until 2015 to meet the new standard of 75 parts per billion.

The ozone standard is calculated by taking the fourth-highest 8-hour average ozone reading of the year and averaging three years of those readings.

A previous federal standard for ozone was set at 80 parts per billion to 85 parts per billion.

Ozone Advance is an EPA program that helps metro areas that meet the ozone standard to continue meeting it by taking preventive action, explained Laura Bunte, of the EPA office of air quality and standards.

Some preventive actions include using alternative fuels for vehicles, energy efficiency or other measures depending on the origin of the ozone causing pollution.

In some metro areas, the nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons that form ozone pollution come from car exhaust while in other metro areas a bigger share may come from industry. When nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons combine during sunny, hot days without much wind, ozone that forms can accumulate and cause breathing and other health problems.

As part of the Ozone Advance program, each metro area has to put together an action plan that outlines not only what the area has done in the past to reduce ozone-causing emissions, but also plans for future actions and deadlines for those actions to be completed, Bunte said.

“It really helps to tie everything in one place,” Bunte said.

EPA also has a program to encourage the reduction of particulate pollution, which is tiny particles created during such events as fires that can cause health problems when inhaled.

Bunte said the metro areas involved in the Ozone Advance program are encouraged to enroll in the particulate program as well.

“It just is a lot easier to combine the operations,” she said.

Currently 30 metro areas in 18 states have joined the Ozone Advance program with five of those metro areas in Louisiana, Bunte said. In addition, the first metro area to sign up for the particulate matter program, called PM Advance, was the Lake Charles area, she said.

Although the five-parish Baton Rouge area, including East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Ascension, Livingston and Iberville parishes, have struggled to meet ozone standards that kept getting lower over the years, the other metro areas of the state have not had the same struggles, and as a result, don’t have as much experience. Most representatives of those other metro areas said Tuesday that they are at the point of organizing information about what they’ve done and where their potential ozone problem lies.

In addition, each metro area is trying to bring organizations together on the ozone issue much like several organizations already operating in the Baton Rouge area, including the Baton Rouge Clean Air Coalition and the Greater Baton Rouge Clean Cities Coalition.

“We really just got started in the last couple months,” said Dwight Minton, staff member with the Imperial Calcasieu Regional Planning and Development Commission. There are about 30 companies, agencies or government groups that are a part of the group, he said, and they’re working on detailing current actions to reduce emissions.

Several of the representatives said education of business owners, leaders and residents is going to be one of the major tasks they face.

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