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Ozone in Berkeley, Jefferson counties now at acceptable levels

February 14, 2008

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) -- The air is cleaner in Berkeley and Jefferson counties these days, thanks to a four-year effort to cut ozone to an acceptable level.

Both counties, along with Martinsburg and area development authorities, agreed in 2004 to voluntary controls to reduce ozone, a major component of smog, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listed the region as nonattainment.

The designation came after the region's ground-level ozone exceeded federal threshold levels by small margins in each of several summers.

Since 2004, the region's ground-level ozone has fallen from 85 parts per million to 75 parts per million, according to a report submitted to the EPA in December by Mark Ball, air quality program manager for the Region 9 Planning and Development Council. The federal threshold is 80 parts per million.

Ball said Tuesday that the EPA recently declared Berkeley and Jefferson counties an attainment area.

"We are now below the standard, and that's good," Ball said.

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Officials in the region don't want to see that success erode, so the air quality program will remain in effect.

"We have reached attainment, but we still need to maintain the program," Ball said. "Every year, more people move into the area, more trucks go up and down the road."

The voluntary controls included "ozone action days" in which local governments asked residents to carpool and avoid open burning, backyard grilling, pumping gas or operating gas-powered engines such as lawnmowers.

Ball said the number of "ozone action days" has fallen from between five and six per year to one for each of the past three years.

"Everybody's better off," he said. "It just contributes to everybody's health."

Berkeley County Commissioner William L. Stubblefield said reducing ozone levels also helps motorists, who could have faced expensive mandatory vehicle emission tests if the region had not achieved attainment status.

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