Despite three air pollution alert days this summer, much of the state has emerged from the heart of ozone season in good shape under the maximum limits allowed by the federal government.
That good news could be short-lived because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release a tougher standard by Oct. 1.
That means East Baton Rouge and four nearby parishes could be joined by other areas of the state in searching for new ways to reduce ozone-causing pollution, although there will be time given to meet whatever new standard is set.
As of Aug. 31, all air monitors operated by the state Department of Environmental Quality met the current federal standard of 75 ppb of ozone, with the highest value being at LSU at 71 ppb.
Ozone is not a pollution that is released directly into the air. Instead, it is formed through chemical reactions that occur through emissions from industry, vehicles, lawnmowers and other sources on hot, sunny days. Ozone formation isn’t really a concern in winter months because there are fewer sunlight hours, it’s not as hot, and the chances of windy, cloudy days are increased. Wind can lessen the accumulations of ozone and decrease problems for vulnerable populations, such as children and the elderly.
Until the new standard is announced, uncertainty remains. Right now, state regulators don’t know which parishes will meet the new standard or even which three years of air monitoring information will be used to determine a parish’s ozone standing, said Vivian Aucoin, senior environmental scientist with DEQ’s air permits division.
Once EPA sets the new standard, the state can make its case on which parishes should be considered as meeting the standard and which ones need to do additional work. It’s not as cut and dried as just looking at the numbers.
For several years, parishes around the state took part in an EPA program called Ozone Advance, created to help reduce ozone-causing pollution in advance of the expected tougher standard. DEQ staff spent several years talking with parish leaders, industry representatives and planning commissions to prepare areas that, unlike Baton Rouge, haven’t had experience with what being out of compliance with ozone standards can mean.
For Baton Rouge, decades of struggling to meet the federal standard has meant the additional cost of yearly vehicle emission inspections, more requirements for construction or expansion of operations at industrial complexes, and more hoops to jump through when qualifying for transportation funding.
With the Ozone Advance program, and DEQ efforts to raise awareness around the state, there could be areas that are close to meeting whatever new standard is announced, Aucoin said. If those areas meet the standard by the time DEQ needs to send in recommendations to the EPA, the state could recommend that the federal government take the new information into consideration.
Even in the Baton Rouge area, it’s not known which parishes EPA will include in the region. Currently, the Baton Rouge five-parish ozone area includes East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Ascension, Iberville and Livingston parishes. However, the metropolitan statistical area for the region has changed to include nine parishes that add in Pointe Coupee, St. Helena, East Feliciana and West Feliciana.
Some parishes in the statistical area have been able to be excluded before, but it’s unclear what the new EPA rule will allow, Aucoin said.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter @awold10.