Sunshine and beautiful blue skies are terrific assets in the Tri-Cities, especially for those who like to spend a lot of time outdoors.
So the recent announcement that our area’s ground-level ozone pollution levels average in the unhealthy range comes as a bit of a shock.
The readings are considered marginally over the line, but still, this is news our community should take seriously. We would rather be well below the mark instead of just above it
The state Department of Ecology and the Benton Clean Air Agency have just begun working with local government officials to find ways to reduce ozone in the Tri-Cities.
Although we are years away from possible federal sanctions, improving the region’s air quality is too important to put off. Our elected leaders should address the concern right away.
After a too-high ozone reading was taken in 2015, officials with Ecology and the Benton Clean Air Agency wanted to find out whether it was a one-time spike.
It turns out the reading was an indication of a troubling pattern.
The results of the study showed the average for 2015 through 2017 exceeded the federal regulatory limit for ozone.
Ground-level ozone is different than the naturally occurring ozone of Earth’s stratosphere, which protects us from harmful radiation.
Surface ozone is produced when pollutants from cars, oil refineries and other fossil-fuel industries are emitted in the air and react to sunlight.
Higher levels of it can be harmful to the elderly, people with lung diseases, healthy adults exercising outdoors, and children whose lungs are still developing.
The Ecology study found no single cause for the higher ozone levels in the Tri-Cities, but weather is apparently a factor. A breeze can carry pollutants in the air until they dam up against the Horse Heaven Hills, allowing the ozone to “cook.”
While we can’t control the region’s geography or the weather, there might be some realistic changes we can make as a community that might make a difference.
For instance, consider that the study found ozone levels spiked on our roads during the Water Follies boat races, and tended to drop on weekends when there were less emissions from people commuting to work.
Limiting lawn mowing on days when the temperatures are high and the winds are low is a suggestion, as is using propane rather than charcoal to barbecue.
If the Tri-Cities stays out of compliance, it is possible the EPA could sanction the community, which might make it harder to get air quality permits for new or expanding businesses. It is likely that wouldn’t occur until 2022, however.
Though, for now, the new ozone guidelines aren’t a certainty. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has delayed implementing the new, stricter standards for ground-level ozone pollution set in 2015.
They were supposed to be in place by last October, but he postponed the action.
In addition, Pruitt recently rolled back fuel emission standards.
But regardless of what happens at the federal level, we need clean air for our good health — and that’s reason enough.