Due to budget constraints, the National Weather Service soon will decide whether it will continue its ozone air-quality predictions. But that decision also may decide the fate of a warning system being planned for Southeast Missouri.
According to David Grimes, deputy director of the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission in Perryville, a decision by the National Weather Service to terminate its ozone air-quality predictions would hamper the commission's prospective ozone-alert system.
"The issue is being able to give ozone alerts," Grimes said. "The National Weather Service uses sophisticated models in their predictions that are vital for us in providing an ozone-alert system. Without them, it will be much more difficult to provide such alerts."
Grimes said the alerts would let people know about potential health concerns.
"If we know we're facing a high-ozone day, we would be able to get the word out through an alert system," he said. "High-ozone levels are irritating for people with a disposition to be affected by them. With an alert, people with asthma or certain skin disorders would be able to plan their day so they could minimize their exposure."
Grimes added "getting the word out" wouldn't end with alerts of high levels of ozone in the atmosphere. In addition to alerts, he said the commission would continue to inform Southeast Missouri residents on ways to combat high-ozone levels.
"There's a limited amount of things we can do," he said, "but what we've been emphasizing is for people to help the cause by doing the little things. Instead of making five trips to town in the car per day, make it two. Avoid idling your car. When you're filling up at the gas station, stop at the click when the tank is full. It's those little things that add up when you're trying to improve ozone levels."
Grimes has good reason for wanting to inform people of high levels of ozone in the atmosphere. The region has exceeded acceptable ozone levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency at monitors in place near Farrar, Mo., in Perry County and in Ste. Genevieve County, Mo.
Air quality monitors operated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in Perry and Ste. Genevieve counties are used by the Environmental Protection Agency to determine whether the areas are in compliance with current ozone standards. The designations are made based on a three-year rolling average of ozone readings called a design value. While the monitor in Ste. Genevieve has a design value of 75 parts per billion, the acceptable limit set by the EPA, the monitor near Farrar, Mo., is two points higher at 77 parts per billion.
The readings could affect industrial recruitment as industries considering moving to the area may have concerns about the costs of controlling emissions.
"That's what people need to understand," Grimes said. "There just can't be a 'so-what' attitude about a minimally high ozone reading. Something like economic development depends on it."
Grimes said if the monitors continue to show a high level of ozone, or if the EPA decides to lower the acceptable levels, the economy of the region could suffer.
"Developers check to see if a site they are looking at is in a nonattainment area," Grimes said. "If that's the case, they won't even think of putting a plant or factory there."
For now, however, Grimes hopes the National Weather Service will simply continue their ozone air-quality predictions.
"They say it's about the budget," he said, "and I can see that. But without the models they use, I'm not sure how effective our program would be."
Chris Vaccaro, a spokesperson for the National Weather Service in Silver Spring, Md., confirmed during a telephone interview there were "fiscal constraints" within the National Weather Service, and a decision whether to keep the ozone air-quality predictions would come by the end of the year.
1 West St. Joseph St., Perryville, MO