JOPLIN, Mo. —
Rising ozone levels in Southwest Missouri and what can be done about it will be the focus of a Clean Air Conference Jan. 15 at Missouri Southern State University.
Ground-level ozone is a key component of smog and can aggravate breathing and cause other health problems for residents.
Recent air quality sampling by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources indicates Southwest Missouri has been either on the threshold of the EPA standard, or exceeding it.
According to Dan Pekarek, director of the Joplin Health Department, those standards could become even more stringent in the future, and the conference is part of an effort to look at voluntary steps the city, residents and businesses can take to bring levels down. Continuing to exceed EPA ozone rules could result in mandatory federal and state requirements that could affect businesses and residents.
The conference will be held from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15, at Cornell Auditorium in the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center on the campus of Missouri Southern State University. It is sponsored by the Environmental Task Force of Jasper and Newton Counties and the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce.
Pekarek said they want to get the word out about the ozone concerns to the business community and those that might be affected, and also to find volunteers who would serve on a local stakeholder work group to address the issue.
Representatives of the Missouri DNR also will be on hand to try and answer questions, said Renee Bungart, spokesperson for the DNR.
According to Pekarek, regulators use a formula to calculate ground-level ozone levels, and in 2009 the readings for the DNR’s monitor Alba averaged .074 parts per billion. That dropped to .072 in 2010 but rose to .079 in 2011. The EPA standard is .075 parts per billion.
Preliminary data indicate 2012 could also exceed the federal level, but Bungart said she could not release the results of 2012 air sampling until those results are certified by the EPA.
The DNR also has another monitoring station in Southwest Missouri at El Dorado Springs.
Pekarek said the Joplin area is on the low end of the spectrum, and added: “If we can keep under that or bump ourselves down a bit, that’s where we want to be.
“We as a community just need to start looking at voluntary things we can do,” said Pekarek.
Other communities have adopted measures to encourage car pooling, for example, and have “no idle” policies for companies that have a fleet of vehicles.
“A lot of it is going to be community education,” Pekarek said of the local efforts.
According to the EPA, ozone is found at both ground level and in the upper regions of the atmosphere. Ozone in the upper atmospheric protects the earth from the sun's harmful radiation, but ground-level ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation and congestion. It also can worsen bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. Ground-level ozone also can reduce lung function and inflame the linings of the lungs.
Ground-level ozone is created by chemical reactions from industrial and power plants, motor vehicle exhaust, and more.
It also is aggravated by hot weather and that may be part of the problem, Pekarek said. Joplin has experienced two of its hottest summers on record in 2011 and in 2012. Additional traffic as a result of the tornado, particularly diesel truck and heavy equipment use stemming from the clean up and rebuilding, also could be a contributing factor, Pekarek said.
Ground-level ozone also can be transported long distances by wind, which is why some rural areas experience high ozone levels at times. It also may mean that ozone readings in Southwest Missouri could be triggered by areas south and west of Joplin, such as Tulsa, Okla., and Northwest Arkansas.
“It’s not just a Joplin issue, it’s a regional issue,” Pekarek said.
Ground-level ozone also can affect sensitive vegetation and ecosystems, including trees and plants during the growing season. Specifically, it can interfere with the ability of sensitive plants to produce and store food and visibly damage the leaves of trees and other plants.
Plant species that are sensitive to ozone are black cherry, quaking aspen, ponderosa pine and cottonwood.
Source: Environmental Protection Agency