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Ozone levels to be assessed

March 17, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Filling up a gas tank.

Spraying an aerosol can.

Installing fiberglass or using cement.

All of these activities could be contributing, in one small way or another, to high levels of ozone in the area.

Ozone is produced when local industrial plants that produce those items are in operation. And fumes that leak out when a person fills his gas tank also add up.

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Rather than wait to be declared as "non-attainment" - meaning the area has not attained acceptable ozone levels - local officials are involved in a pro-active plan.

Measurements taken over the last two years show that the ambient air concentration of ozone is 88 parts per billion in Berkeley County, W.Va. The federal acceptable level is 84 ppb.

To prevent being labeled as non-attainment, the next step in a lengthy process is to undergo a process called air modeling.

Air modeling involves plugging in data for previous years, including ozone emission levels, temperatures, wind directions and speeds and other pertinent factors, said Bob Crawford, executive director of the Berkeley County Development Authority.

After that data is entered, projected emissions reductions are put into the equation to see whether emissions will fall to acceptable levels.

The price tag for the modeling is not known. Norwood Bentley, legal counsel for the county, estimated it to be between $150,000 and $250,000. Environmental officials in Virginia are expected to do the study, Crawford said.

Last week, the Martinsburg City Council and Berkeley County Commission voted to appropriate $50,000 each for the study, as did the Berkeley County Development Authority, which receives its money from city and county coffers.

Now, those agencies plan to ask the state to contribute $125,000. Having local government bodies contribute money first may increase the chance that Gov. Bob Wise will pitch in some funding, Berkeley County commissioners said.

If the state helps fund the modeling study, local contributions for the study could possibly be reduced. Plus, local industries might be approached to help fund it, Crawford said.

The initial study must be done by May 31.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is set to declare sites as non-attainment in April 2004. Should this area be declared as such, it would be more difficult for existing industries to expand or for new industries to open, Crawford said.

Road construction could be hindered and gas prices might increase, possibly to more than $2 a gallon if current trends continue, said Howard Strauss, president of the Berkeley County Commission.

"It would be cheaper to have AAA tow your car from place to place," Strauss joked.

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.

One of 10 in the state, the device that measures ozone here is on county-owned property behind the sheriff's department on South Queen Street in Martinsburg. It was installed two years ago.

By June 2003, local officials must report the measures they are considering to reduce emissions, Durham said. After June, Berkeley officials must 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 long process to possibly avert non-attainment status comes at the end of 2005. At that time, emission control measures must be in place, Durham said.

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