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Officials hear air quality concerns

December 20, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN - Jefferson County officials - like their neighbors in Berkeley County - are faced with the issue of high ozone levels in the region.

Because the testing for ozone levels in the two-county area is conducted in Martinsburg, W.Va., in Berkeley County, Jefferson County is also considered to have ozone levels that are above acceptable federal levels, a county development official told the Jefferson County Commission Thursday.

To address high ozone levels, Jane Peters, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority, suggested the commission enter into an "early action compact" with the Berkeley County Commission.

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The compact, which commissioners agreed to support, would detail efforts the two counties will make to reduce ozone levels, Peters said.

Peters said it is too early to tell what kind of action plan the counties might take to reduce ozone levels. It could involve plants making efforts to reduce emissions, although Peters pointed out it is not only industry that can attribute to high ozone levels.

High ozone levels can also be caused by heavy traffic, Peters said.

"It occurs naturally, too, but I don't know what to do about that," Peters said.

Ozone is created by a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, including paint thinners, paint solvents, gasoline and alcohol, state environmental officials said.

Measurements taken over the last two years at an air monitoring station at the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department on South Queen Street in Martinsburg show the ambient air concentration of ozone is 88 parts per billion in the county.

The federal acceptable level is 84 parts per billion, meaning Berkeley and Jefferson counties could be listed as a "nonattainment" area, Peters and other county development officials have said.

The Berkeley County Commission learned about the situation during its regular meeting last week.

The compact Jefferson County agreed to enter into with Berkeley County Thursday could help prevent Jefferson County from being listed as a "nonattainment area."

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 pollution output. Or local officials must reduce emissions at another facility to offset the emissions from the new plant, state environmental regulators have said.

Peters said there are several problems associated with developing the compact with Berkeley County. The document has to be submitted to the federal Environmental Protection Agency by New Year's Eve, forcing officials to rush to get it together, Peters said.

Peters said no one was aware of the requirements until a few weeks ago.

Commissioner James G. Knode raised concerns about "being sucked into" an issue that has typically been handled by state air quality regulators.

"This strikes me as most peculiar," Knode said.

"I'm offended about this as much as you are," said Commission President James K. Ruland.

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