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Annual Air Quality Report Shows Louisville’s Progress, But Pollution is Still a Problem

An annual report says Louisville’s air is better than it’s been in recent years. But the metro area’s air quality still ranks among the worst in the nation in two categories.

The American Lung Association releases its “State of the Air” report every year, to rank the air quality of counties and metropolitan areas. The Lung Association has been releasing the reports for 13 years, and the Louisville area’s air quality is the best it’s ever been during that time period.

That’s the good news. But the bad news is that Louisville still ranks among the top 10 most polluted metropolitan areas in the country for particle pollution—which can be caused by industrial or vehicle emissions. The area also got a failing grade for ozone pollution.

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Louisville Issues Ozone Air Quality Alert for Friday

Louisville Metro Government has issued an air quality alert for tomorrow, warning that high ozone levels may make it hard for some people to breathe.

This is the 19th air quality alert day called so far this year. Kentuckiana Air Education Director Dee Lynch says ozone usually isn’t a problem this late in the year. But she says a high pressure area called a ‘ridge’ is moving into Louisville.

“Things have gotten a little bit stagnant as far as the air quality goes,” Lynch said. We don’t have much for wind, to really move things along out of here, so pollutants have a chance then to kind of build up and cook in the sun.”

Lynch says it’s unusual to issue alerts in October, but not unheard of. Last year there were several alerts for the fires at Fort Knox, but this time the problems are weather-related.

The air quality alert is for sensitive groups—it’s recommended that the young, the elderly, and those with heart or lung problems avoid spending time outdoors.

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Obama Withdraws Draft Rule Meant to Tighten Ozone Standards

As Louisville suffers a string of bad air quality days due to high ozone levels, the Obama Administration has announced that it’s withdrawing a proposal to strengthen the nation’s ozone standard.

President Barack Obama has asked Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson to withdraw a draft proposal that would tighten the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The proposal would have placed stricter regulations on polluters and required major environmental upgrades for most to comply with the Clean Air Act.

In a statement, Mr. Obama said his administration was committed to protecting public health and the environment, but he decided the new ozone standard would create regulatory uncertainty in uncertain economic times.

The announcement was simultaneously hailed and panned by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said the Obama Administration needs to take similar steps back with other regulatory moves.

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Louisville Experiences 12th Air Quality Alert

The Air Pollution Control District has issued an Air Quality Alert for Wednesday and Thursday in Louisville.

This is already Louisville’s 12th Air Quality Alert, compared to 19 all of last year.  There were only four the year before that.

“Especially with ozone, heat and sunlight are needed to form ozone at the ground level,” Matt Stull of the Air Pollution Control District said.   “So, when we see days with hot and humid conditions and combine that with stagnant air, you combine that with emissions from tailpipes, you have a buildup of ozone.”

With a weather forecast predicting more hot weather, it’s likely to cause more alerts.

“We’re looking at high temperature in the mid 90s and continuing on Thursday, maybe low 90s on Friday,” Ryan Sharp of the National Weather Service said.  “And Sunday Monday and Tuesday all look to be in the mid 90s.”

The air in Louisville is currently categorized as “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”  People with asthma, children and the elderly could be affected, and are encouraged to limit their time outdoors.

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New EPA Law Would Regulate Pollution in Kentucky

The Louisville area has had six Air Quality Alerts because of high ozone levels so far this year.But the Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to unveil a new rule this week that could eventually reduce those ozone levels.

The Clean Air Transport Rule will affect states differently. Some will have to regulate both fine particle pollution and ozone, some will have to regulate one or the other, and some won’t be affected at all. Kentucky, as well as the entire Ohio River Valley, is among the 21 states that will have to reduce both types of pollution.

Area power plants will have to install pollution controls to comply with the rule, which probably won’t go into effect for several years.

The EPA issued the proposed rule a year ago, and the final rule is expected this week. The agency estimates this rule and other actions will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions 71 percent and nitrogen oxides 52 percent by 2014. They say these reductions will improve air quality and public health.

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Heat Wave Contributes to Poor Air Quality

by Chris McDaniel

Despite predictions that this summer would be milder than usual, Louisville has been experiencing temperatures reaching the mid 90s.  The Climate Prediction Center made the original forecast, and the center still holds that the heat will plateau as the summer goes on.  Ryan Sharp from the National Weather Service says Louisville residents should be thankful for this year’s wet spring.

“Actually it’s helping to keep us a little bit cooler,” Sharp said. “We’re still soaking up and drying out some of the moisture that’s in the soil.  We were talking about that earlier this morning, that if we were browner around here, temperatures would be in the upper 90s to 100 with the heat wave we’ve had.”

These high temperatures have been contributing to air quality alerts for Louisville.  The city is currently classified as “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

“Heat is a major factor,” Matt Stull from the Air Pollution Control Board said. “The main factors though, for the formation of ozone are cloudless skies, winds that calm to the point of almost being still, and then also the amounts of pollution that are coming in.  When you have the combination of all three of those, you’re going to have higher ozone.”

Stull says these readings are earlier than usual.

“Generally we have the bulk of the air quality alerts in July and August, so since we haven’t really hit summer yet, this is early,” Stull said. “But, that can also vary from year to year.  Last year we had a couple of days in April when we saw higher ozone levels and had to issue alerts.”

Stull advises the elderly and those with asthma to limit their activity to the early morning hours to avoid the buildup of ozone during the early to late evening.

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Kentucky Environmental Foundation Hopes to Spur EPA Decisions

The Kentucky Environmental Foundation is hoping to encourage the Environmental Protection Agency to rule on issues related to air quality in Kentucky.

The EPA has missed its deadline to approve or reject state implementation program proposals. The proposals outline how various regions in the commonwealth will reduce particulate pollution released by power plants, cars and other sources. KEF director Elizabeth Crowe says by missing deadlines, the EPA has allowed the air to remain polluted, and her organization has filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA over the issue.

“That is just a way to, in this case, let the EPA know that we’re watching and that we want them to go ahead and take this action,” she says.  

Local News

Activist Responds to Rubbertown Explosion

Today on State of Affairs we heard a portion of Phillip M. Bailey’s interview with activist Attica Scott in response to last week’s explosion at Carbide Industries in the Rubbertown neighborhood. Click below to hear the entire interview.

Audio MP3

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Fort Knox Fires Smoldering, Air Quality Improves

Wildfires that began at Fort Knox last week have died down after blanketing much of Louisville with smoke.

The fires burned a wooded training area at the fort, and could have been caused by tracer bullets, which contain burning phosphorous. The subsequent smoke and ash blew northward to Louisville, where Air Pollution Control District spokesperson Matt Stull says an air quality alert was issued for the weekend.

“Typically in the summertime when we have high levels of ozone, we issue those alerts when we get into the unhealthy for sensitive groups range, but this weekend we were a step above that,” he says.

Stull says rain Monday has restored air quality. Fort Knox spokesperson Anne Torphy says crews from around the area are monitoring the fires, which are now smoldering.

“We’re really at the mercy of the weather,” she says. “If it continues to rain, that will help tremendously, but if we get more dry weather or if winds kick up, then we’ll have to re-assess the situation.”

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EPA to Update Air Quality Standards

The EPA has announced it will revise standards for nitrogen oxides, or NO2, by early 2010.  NO2 is a harmful-to-your-health gaseous emission from burning fossil fuels, and the major sources are vehicles and coal-fired power plants.  creative_commons_louisville_roadtrip

The EPA periodically updates its emission standards based on the latest science.  What’s of interest about this periodic review is the agency’s decision to add NO2 monitoring sites along roadways.  New evidence shows that NO2 can be more dangerous in short, intense exposures, such as what might be found along a major highway.  From the EPA’s announcement in the Federal Register:

“Because monitors in the current network are not sited to measure peak roadway-associated NO2 concentrations, individuals who spend time on and/or near major roadways could experience NO2 concentrations that are considerably higher than indicated by monitors in the current area-wide NO2 monitoring network [of about 400 nationwide].”

Forty to 80% higher, it projects.  So folks who spend time on or near highways could be breathing in much more NO2 than we know. And we know more now, the EPA says, about why that’s not so good: recent scientific evidence has established pretty clear links between NO2 and respiratory ailments and an increase in emergency room visits.

The highway monitors may not yet be in place. But in separate-though-related news, you can get ready to track this and other public health concerns from your nearest computer.  The Centers for Disease Control just launched its online Public Health Tracking Network.  It’s easy to access and understand than other means of finding this data, I think. Check for incidences of cancer in your area, air quality indicators, information on birth defects and the environment, and more.