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Heat wave contributes to higher ozone levels in Southeast Missouri, state
Along with this summer's heat wave comes higher ozone readings on Missouri air monitors.
Southeast Missouri's air monitor in Perry County has exceeded the existing ozone standard four times so far this summer, according to Missouri Department of Natural Resources reports.
That comes as the EPA is expected to announce more stringent ground-level ozone standards by Friday. EPA officials have delayed the revision of the standards twice, most recently in October and before that new standards were to be announced in August.
In January 2010, the EPA announced it was reviewing the 2008 ozone standard of 75 parts per billion, set under the Bush administration.
It has been considering a standard between 60 and 70 parts per billion, said David Grimes, deputy director of the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission. Grimes heads the commission's air quality committee.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see another postponement, but I also wouldn't be surprised to see a new standard of 60," he said.
Local economic development officials fear a lower ozone standard will result in some Southeast Missouri counties being designated "nonattainment" zones where new or expanding businesses will face emissions restrictions.
Across the state, ozone averages are spiking this summer. Two monitors in St. Charles County are falling out of compliance with the existing standard of three-year rolling averages above 75 parts per billion, according to DNR's weekly ozone readings report.
The Perry County monitor is just under the current allowable level with a three-year rolling average of 74 parts-per-billion as of Monday's report.
Of Missouri's 23 monitors, nine locations exceeded the standard last week as temperatures across the state were in the upper 90s.
The summer heat is a key ingredient in making ozone, Grimes said.
"If the precursors are there -- your volatile organic compounds, your nitrous oxide -- and then you get all that sun and all that heat, boom, you're going to get ozone," Grimes said.
In 2009, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources recommended both Perry and Ste. Genevieve counties to the EPA for nonattainment designations under the 2008 standard. Cape Girardeau County was initially included in the recommendation but was later dropped.
The recommendation has been on hold while the EPA has been reviewing whether to make the standard more stringent.
Stricter ozone regulations won't be well-received by economic developers struggling to attract industry and create jobs while the nation's unemployment rate is still above 9 percent.
"People within industry will see this as another effort to drive American manufacturing out of the country to other countries that have little or no regulations related to ozone," said Mitch Robinson, executive director of the industrial recruiting group Magnet.
A nonattainment designation would require new or expanding companies to invest in equipment to reduce pollution, increasing their cost of doing business here, Robinson said.
"Everybody wants clean air, but when you get down to measuring at such finite levels, you have to look at the cost-benefit," he said. "We're costing ourselves in the end with additional regulation for equipment that may or may not have an impact on ozone levels."
The EPA says its proposed standards are health-based and recommended by an independent Clean Air Science Advisory Committee. Breathing ozone can irritate the lungs and aggravate chronic conditions like asthma.
Grimes and his air quality committee drafted a voluntary Clean Air Action Plan last year in preparation for a stricter ozone standard. It's yet to be implemented due to a lack of funding. He said there are common-sense things everyone can do to help reduce ozone, including stopping at the first click when fueling their cars and mowing during the evening instead of the day.
"We're waiting for the EPA to come out with a number. Then we'll see what the next step is," he said.