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Lung association gives area air low marks

May 06, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

TRI-STATE -- A new American Lung Association (ALA) report gives low grades to local counties for their air quality.

Washington County got an "F" for its ozone level, while Berkeley County, W.Va., and Franklin County, Pa., each received a "D."

The marks are based on different clean-air standards than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses to determine compliance.

Compared to the EPA's criteria, "ours tends to be a little more conservative," said Janice Nolen, the ALA's assistant vice president for national policy and advocacy.

But Maria Pino, an EPA air quality planning specialist, said the approaches simply are different.

"We're just looking at air quality and whether it meets the standard," plus mitigating factors, she said.

Each year, the ALA's "State of the Air" report examines ozone and fine-particle pollution levels in the 50 states and Washington, D.C.

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Ground-level ozone, also called smog, is created when the sun bakes pollution from vehicles, industry, consumer products and power plants, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Fine-particle pollution, which comes from both natural and man-made sources, can aggravate heart and lung disease and has been associated with other serious health problems, according to the EPA.

For fine-particle pollution, Berkeley County received a "D" in the ALA report. Washington County was given a "B."

Tri-State counties that aren't monitored for their fine-particle levels, including Franklin County, weren't included.

The metro area of Washington, D.C., Baltimore and northern Virginia was ranked 14th among the most polluted cities for both ozone and particle pollution.

Nearly five years ago, Washington and Berkeley counties were on an EPA list of places that don't meet clean-air standards. The counties agreed to work on plans to reduce pollution levels.

In 2007, Washington County's ozone level dropped to 79 parts per billion (ppb), just below the federal standard of 80 ppb, and was considered to be in compliance, said Jill Baker, a senior planner for the county.

Last year, the EPA lowered the minimum standard to 75 ppb.

Washington County's 2008 level was 78 ppb, Dawn Stoltzfus, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Environment, wrote in an e-mail.

That's higher than the new federal standard, but the EPA won't officially determine if the county is in compliance until next year, Pino said.

For fine-particle pollution, Washington County still is designated "nonattainment," Baker said.

Berkeley County also is a "nonattainment" area for fine particles, said Mike Ball, the air quality program manager for the Region 9 Planning and Development Council.

Berkeley County lowered its ozone level from 86 ppb in 2004 to 75 ppb in 2007, when the EPA minimum standard was 80 ppb, Ball said.

The county's level stayed at 75 ppb last year, when the standard dropped to 75 ppb, he said.

Franklin County's latest ozone reading is 72 ppb, Lauri Lebo of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said.

The EPA reviews clean-air standards every five years to see if they're "adequately protective of human health," said Fred Durham, deputy director for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Air Quality.

Ball said some people are pushing to lower the ozone standard to 60 ppb.

The EPA's 24-hour standard for fine particles was cut roughly in half three years ago, Durham said.

The ALA's "State of the Air" report card is based on daily forecasts of ozone or fine-particle pollution in an area. Under a color-coded scale, orange means "unhealthy for sensitive groups," red is "unhealthy" for everyone and purple is "very unhealthy" for everyone.

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