Ozone levels in Southwest Missouri have risen in recent years and bear watching in the coming years to keep them in compliance with federal regulations, state officials said Tuesday at a conference on the area’s air quality.
While ozone higher in the atmosphere helps block harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun, ground-level ozone can aggravate breathing and cause other health problems for area residents, said Assem Abdul, with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
“The ground one is the one we’re concerned with,” he said. “It’s bad to our health.”
Recent air-quality sampling by the DNR indicates that Southwest Missouri has been either on the threshold of or exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency standard.
Regulators use a formula to calculate ground-level ozone levels. In 2009, the readings for the DNR’s monitor at Alba averaged 0.074 parts per billion. That level dropped to 0.072 in 2010, but it rose to 0.079 in 2011. The EPA standard since 2008 is 0.075 parts per billion; it previously was 0.080 parts per billion.
Preliminary data indicate 2012 could exceed the federal level, but official figures for the year will not be released until they are certified by the EPA.
Jeff Burkett, representing the Environmental Task Force of Jasper and Newton Counties, said the issue is worth monitoring.
“Looking at the history of the ozone standard, it’s going down,” he said. “ Ozone levels in this area are in fact increasing. This region faces a very real potential issue of needing to address non-attainment (of the federal standard) and ways we can prevent this region from going into non-attainment.”
Tiffany Drake, with the state DNR, said any regulatory action that could be imposed on the area by the EPA for not complying with federal standards would not be proposed for several years.
On a question from the audience about whether ground-level ozone that drifts from nearby metropolitan areas, such as Tulsa, Okla., could play a role in increasing Southwest Missouri’s ozone levels, Drake acknowledged it is a possibility.
“There is definitely some impact from sources outside of this area,” she said. “However, I will say that you definitely contribute to your own problem as well.”
Another audience member asked whether the May 2011 tornado, and particularly the influx of traffic and large vehicles coming into Joplin for debris removal, could have affected the Alba monitor’s ozone readings in 2011.
Drake said the EPA sometimes acknowledges exceptional events, such as forest or prairie fires. But making those events responsible for an increase in ozone levels is a “challenge,” she said. She said ozone monitors in states surrounding Southwest Missouri that had not had a major tornado also registered higher readings in recent years.
The Joplin area is not alone in battling an increase in ozone levels. Ozone monitors in St. Charles County near St. Louis, in Clinton County near Kansas City and in Perry County in Southeast Missouri have reported readings higher than the national standard in recent years, Drake said.
Doug Neidigh, of the 15-county Ozark Clean Air Alliance, said the same trend has been noticeable in Springfield and Greene County. He said common sources of air pollutants include cars and trucks, power plants, agriculture, construction, open burning, and small machines such as lawn mowers.
“We have more population, more construction, more industry coming in,” he said. “You’re always growing, and sooner or later, air pollutants start to go up.”
Drake said residents can take measures now to help curb ozone levels, such as organizing an air-quality monitoring group, educating the community on ozone issues and promoting voluntary programs for individuals.
She said Perry County, for example, has begun a Stop at the Click campaign that encourages drivers to stop filling a vehicle’s gas tank when they hear the pump click to signal that the tank is full, rather than topping it off. The additional pumps of gasoline into the tank release harmful pollutants into the air, she said.
In the Springfield area, the Ozark Clean Air Alliance teamed up with organizations to promote a Web-based ride-sharing program, new walking and bike paths, and policies to reduce the idling of cars, Neidigh said.
ABOUT 50 PEOPLE, representing local power plants, utility companies and other businesses concerned with air pollutants, attended Tuesday’s conference at Missouri Southern State University.