Clean air strategies are sought

April 24, 2003|by TARA REILLY

Washington County residents soon may be urged to keep clean air in mind when purchasing products or conducting daily activities.

County and state officials are working on local strategies that residents can take to control ozone pollution, even though Washington County has some of the cleanest air in the state, Tad Aburn of the Maryland Department of the Environment told the County Commissioners on Tuesday.

The county would have to follow more stringent federal restrictions handed down by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency if it did not have local strategies in place. Those local measures would be part of an Early Action Compact, in which the EPA allows counties to voluntarily create their own pollution-controlling steps through the reduction of chemical emissions.

Ozone is a toxic gas that, when inhaled, can cause respiratory problems, chest pain, sore throats and other breathing problems, according to the EPA.


County Planning Director Robert Arch said Wednesday he did not yet know what those measures would be. He said he's working on setting up a public hearing on the matter within the next two weeks.

Some of the local steps might include promoting carpooling and the creation of Ozone Action Day Response programs, Aburn said.

The response programs would consist of ozone pollution reduction measures residents would be asked to follow on days when ozone levels are high.

Laurie Bucher, the Washington County Health Department's director of environmental health, said one option might be to ask residents to cut down on the use of volatile organic compounds, which are found in products including paint and hair spray.

Volatile organic compounds mix with sunlight to create ozone, Bucher said.

Aburn said that while Washington County's air is cleaner than other areas in the state, it sometimes has high ozone levels because of pollution floating in from upwind areas, such as the Ohio River valley, and the county's proximity to the Washington/Baltimore metropolitan area.

"Washington County is generally a cleaner county than a lot of the counties I'm used to working with," Aburn said.

Arch said the county usually has only a few high-level ozone days, which are typically muggy days in August.

He said that while the county can do some things that control ozone pollution, because much of it blows in from other areas, the county probably never will be able to get rid of it altogether.

"There's nothing we can really do about that that makes much of a difference," Arch said.

At least two Washington County Commissioners expressed concern over the EPA's regulations.

"I think it's a good idea to try to get out from the additional regulations," Commissioner William J. Wivell said of the Early Action Compact. "The question is: Are the additional regulations necessary?"

Wivell also questioned whether being known as a high-ozone area would hurt economic development.

"I don't really think we need it here," Commissioner John C. Munson said of the ozone pollution reduction measures.

Munson said he didn't think the measures would work because the county is close to other states that are having similar problems.

"It's probably going to float right over here anyway, and we're going to get blamed for having it," Munson said.

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