EPA agrees with state that BR area air meets federal ozone standards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agrees with the state that the five-parish area in the vicinity of Baton Rouge has met the federal standard for ozone pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday, after reviewing the air monitoring information for the three-year period of 2011-2013, that the parishes of East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Ascension, Iberville and Livingston meet the standard.

“We commend local and state officials, as well as the residents of the Baton Rouge area, who have been working collaboratively with us to reach this milestone,” EPA Regional Administrator Ron Curry said in a press release. “This accomplishment signifies the continuing commitment to protect people and the environment.”

The area will be formally labeled as meeting the standard once the state Department of Environmental Quality submits a 10-year plan to show how the area will keep meeting the standard approved by EPA.

“We have to show we can continue to meet the standard with all the rules that are in place now,” said Vivian Aucoin, environmental scientist manager with DEQ’s air permits division. She said it’s hoped the plan will be ready to submit to the EPA in late summer or early fall.

Instead of being released directly into the air, ozone pollution is the result of a chemical reaction when nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons from industry, car exhaust and other sources combine in the air during hot and sunny days. When there is little wind to disperse the ozone that is formed, the pollution can accumulate in an area, causing breathing and other health problems.

Although the Baton Rouge area had until 2015 to meet lower measurements of 75 parts per billion of ozone, air monitoring information from the end of last year showed the area was already meeting the standard. Baton Rouge had been classified in 2012 as “marginal” — the least severe classification — under the more stringent standard.

“It just shows all the hard work paid off,” Aucoin said. “There was a lot of hard work and a lot of money that went into this.”

Even when the five-parish area is officially designated as meeting the federal ozone standard, none of the provisions set in place, such as car emission inspections, will be repealed. Under the Clean Air Act, once a rule to meet a standard is put in place, an area can’t “backslide” and repeal those rules later.

There are discussions that a new, even stricter ozone standard could be issued by EPA in the near future. Depending on what that new standard will be, the five-parish area, as well as other metropolitan areas in the state, could be pushed back out of compliance.