Stop idling, air quality expert advises Panhandle residents

June 16, 2006|by RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Correspondent

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - One way motorists in Berkeley and Jefferson counties might avoid the mandatory clean air emission tests forced upon their counterparts in Maryland is by shutting off their car and truck engines when idling, the region's director of air quality told the Jefferson County Commission on Thursday.

Michael Ball, manager of Eastern Panhandle Clean Air Connection, an arm of the Region 9 Planning and Development Council based in the Dunn Building in downtown Martinsburg, W.Va., said so far the air quality index in both counties has been good.

Air pollution monitoring for the two-county area last year showed the air quality ranging from moderate to good. Only once this year, on May 31 because of a four-hour temperature spike, the air quality dipped to an area where it was considered unhealthy for children and adults with lung diseases.

The sun has a major effect on air quality levels, Ball said. The worst season for air pollution is May 1 to Sept. 30, he said. Since cold weather mitigates the effect, burning wood in stoves and fireplaces has not been a problem so far, he said.


Ball had three words of advice for commission members to pass on to their constituents: "Turn it off," he said, referring to the anti-idling effort his program is pushing.

"That's the bottom line," he said. If local efforts fail, Berkeley and Jefferson counties could face auto emission tests mandated by the federal Environmental Agency in the next few years.

The EPA monitors the region's air quality, Ball said. "So far the air here is not bad, but it will require some behavioral changes to keep it that way," he said.

He advises drivers to shut off their engines while waiting in line at drive-in businesses, dropping off and picking up children at school and at events, and anytime an engine is kept running unnecessarily for several minutes or more.

Ball has met with representatives of small and large businesses in the area urging them to encourage their drivers not to idle engines needlessly.

"It doesn't hurt a vehicle to restart the engine," Ball said. "It's not like the old days when we thought it took more gas to restart an engine than leave it running." Modern fuel injection systems changed that, he said. "It also saves gasoline and money to shut down," he said.

He cautioned drivers not to shut off engines at traffic lights, railroad crossings or in similar cases for safety reasons.

Major culprits in the air pollution war are small gasoline engines that power lawn mowers, lawn tractors, weed-cutting machines, outboard motors, small generators and the like, Ball said.

"They produce significantly more pollutants than an 8-cylinder car engine because they don't have catalytic converters," he said.

Ball told the commission members that public awareness and eduction are the best means of achieving the clean-air goal.

He brings his message to schools, local government agencies and local organizations and events. He plans to set up a booth at the Shepherdstown (W.Va.) Street Festival June 24. Thursday night he was scheduled to meet with the Martinsburg City Council.

Ball, 56, has held the Region 9 post since April. Before that he was the ozone co-ordinator for the Loudoun County, Va., Office of Solid Waste Management.

What you can do

Michael Ball, an air quality expert, says there are ways to improve the air quality in the Eastern Panhandle:

âEUR¢ Turn off your engine while waiting in line at drive-throughs.

âEUR¢ Turn it off when dropping off and picking up children at school

âEUR¢ Limit use of small gasoline engines in lawn mowers, lawn tractors, out-board motors and weed trimmers.

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