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County air high in contaminants

A Berkeley County development official said the high level of contaminants could hinder future growth and road construction.

A Berkeley County development official said the high level of contaminants could hinder future growth and road construction.

December 13, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The level of contaminants in Berkeley County's air is above acceptable federal levels, and could hinder future growth and road construction if plans are not under way to reduce emissions, the executive director of the Berkeley County Development Authority said Thursday.

Measurements taken over the last two years show that the ambient air concentration of ozone is 88 parts per billion in the county. The federal acceptable level is 84 ppb, meaning Berkeley could be listed as nonattainment - a "stigma" that Bob Crawford told the Berkeley County Commission could affect development.

Ozone is created by a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, including paint thinners, paint solvents, gasoline and alcohols, said Fred Durham, environmental resources program manager for the state Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Air Quality.

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Sources of the local contaminants include tractor-trailers on Interstate 81 and local industries, Crawford said.

To avert nonattainment status, Crawford asked the county commissioners to sign a letter that states they intend to try to solve the problem.

The letter must be sent by Dec. 31.

Because Crawford's presentation was not listed on the meeting's agenda, the commissioners postponed a decision until next week.

One of 10 devices in the state with which ozone is measured is on county-owned property behind the Sheriff's Department on South Queen Street in Martinsburg. It was installed two years ago.

To determine the ozone parts per billion figure, environmental officials average the fourth highest eight-hour readings from a three-year period, Durham said.

Berkeley County has another year before three years' worth of readings are done, he said, meaning nonattainment status is not imminent.

The EPA is to declare sites as nonattainment in April 2004.

Nonattainment status possibly can be averted if several steps are taken: Local officials must sign a letter of intent and, by June, report the measures they are considering to reduce emissions, Durham said.

After June, Berkeley County officials would have to put together an "inventory" of current and projected sources of emissions, from vehicles and big industries to the average citizen using an aerosol can, Durham said.

The end of the process to possibly avert nonattainment status would come at the end of 2005, at which time emission control measures must be in place, Durham said.

If an area is declared nonattainment, local officials must prove that their long-range transportation plan - including road building and widening - will not result in increased pollution.

Also, any new source of emissions, such as a plant, must find a way to reduce its pollution output. Or local officials must reduce emissions at another facility to offset the emissions from the new plant, Durham said.

Crawford said he had hoped to enter into a pact with Frederick County, Va., to sign the letter of intent. Frederick County's ozone measurement is hovering around the 84 ppb mark, according to measurements taken from a monitor south of the Berkeley County line.

Because Berkeley County is in the already-designated contaminated Washington/Baltimore region, and Frederick County is not, Crawford said federal officials might not approve the pact.

Asked if the 88 ppb findings should worry the average person, Durham said worry may be too strong of a word.

"I think it's something people should be aware of," he said.

Not only should they know of the consequences of nonattainment, but also the health risks associated with a high ozone level, which can especially affect older citizens or those with respiratory problems.

"What can we do as a community to reduce the pollutants that contribute to ozone" is a question people should ask themselves, Durham said. "They do, to a large degree, control their own destiny."

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