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Task force to tackle ozone

April 09, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Eastern Panhandle officials have 10 weeks to submit a detailed plan on how they will reduce hazardous ozone levels - including pollution emitted from big companies and residents.

They have not even begun.

After a presentation from a state Department of Environmental Protection official Tuesday night, about a dozen local officials whipped out their day planners and decided to meet Monday, when they hope to appoint members to a task force. Those task force members must find a way to reduce the ambient air concentration of ozone in the Panhandle, which currently is 88 parts per billion. The federal acceptable level is 84 ppb.

Coming up with that plan is one step of an Early Action Compact, which officials from Berkeley and Jefferson counties and the City of Martinsburg entered into late last year to avoid being labeled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as nonattainment.

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If an area is declared as being nonattainment, it would be more difficult for existing industries to expand or for new industries to open. New road construction could be hindered and gas prices might increase, officials have said.

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.

Weather plays a part as well, with the "ozone season" running from April to October, when the sun affects ozone creation.

Ten devices that measure ozone are scattered throughout the state. In the Panhandle, a device was installed two years ago near South Queen Street, close to Martinsburg High School. Nobody seems to know its exact location.

State environmental officials will provide some guidance to local officials on how to reduce ozone levels, but Durham said each area has different needs and solutions. What works in one area - such as controlling barge traffic or building a commuter train - might not be plausible in another, he said.

A quick fix is no help. Acceptable ozone levels not only must be obtained in the near future, but also must be maintained for the next 10 years, Durham said.

Whether a plan to reduce ozone levels can be in place by the June 16 deadline depends on the participants, Durham said.

"Can it be done? If there's a willingness among the people who are going to be affected by this, I have confidence," he said. "It's going to take a team effort. But it's going to take a larger team."

Community involvement is important, he said. Norwood Bentley, a local attorney who oversaw the Tuesday night meeting, said he hopes anyone interested in serving on the task force will contact the development authorities in Berkeley or Jefferson counties.

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