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2013-05-08 / Front Page

County earns a D for ozone levels

Report reflects slight improvement
By Donna C. Gregory

County residents can breathe a little easier since the American Lung Association’s 2013 State of the Air report shows air pollution levels are improving in the region.

Chesterfield earned a D grade for its ozone pollution levels this year – a slight improvement over the failing grade the county has received for the past four years.

“It’s a definite improvement,” said Laura Kate Bender, healthy air coordinator with the American Lung Association in Virginia. “The fact that the area had fewer days of ozone pollution is a big step forward.”

But, “a D grade is not adequate when it comes to people’s health,” she continued. “We need to do more to make continued improvements in ozone levels in Chesterfield to truly protect people’s health.”

The association’s annual report assigns grades to counties for ozone and particle pollution based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) color-coded Air Quality Index.

“The 2013 report … uses the most recent quality-assured air pollution data, compiled by the EPA, in 2009, 2010 and 2011,” read an association news release.

“These data come from the official monitors for the two most widespread types of pollution, ozone and particle pollution. The report grades counties and ranks cities and counties based on their scores for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels.”

Motor vehicles, power plants, gas stations, chemical plants and refineries are common contributors to ozone pollution.

Ozone is formed when nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbons combine with heat and sunlight, creating a highly reactive gas molecule that is harmful to breathe. Ozone pollution levels are highest during the summer.

According to the 2013 report, the county averaged four “orange days” for ozone pollution annually during the study period, compared to seven in last year’s report. A day is rated as “orange” when ozone pollution reaches unhealthy levels for sensitive groups, such as young children, older adults and people with lung disease.

The average number of “red days,” where ozone pollution levels were high enough to impact the health of everyone, remained at two this year – the same as 2012’s report.

Overall, the Richmond region is seeing minor improvements in ozone pollution levels.

“We know that some of the improvements that local industries made are now showing up in the data,” Bender said.

One of those industries is Dominion Power. In 2011, Dominion spent about $850 million to install a new “scrubber” system at the Chesterfield Power Station near Chester. According to Dominion, the system removes more than 95 percent of sulfur dioxide and 80 percent of hydrochloric and sulfuric acids from the plant’s air emissions.

The lung association’s 2013 report also assigns grades for particle pollution, a mixture of tiny, airborne solid and liquid particles that come from industry, mining, construction and other sources.

The county did not have any “orange” or “red” days for short-term particle pollution levels during the evaluation period, earning an “A” grade on this year’s report. This is the second year in a row the county has received an “A” for short-term particle pollution.

The county received a passing grade for its year-round particle pollution levels.

Nationwide results

“The improvements in Chesterfield track with overall improvement nationwide,” Bender said.

According to the association, more than 131.8 million people in the United States – about 42 percent of the population – live in counties with unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution.

“Air pollution remains a pervasive public health threat in the United States,” the association release read. “Safeguards are necessary to protect the health of nearly 132 million people living in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution that can cause wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature death.”

The association credits the federal Clean Air Act with improving air quality nationwide. According to the EPA, the act was responsible for preventing more than 160,000 premature deaths, 130,000 heart attacks and 1.7 million asthma attacks in 2010 alone.

The EPA is currently considering new standards for gasoline and reducing vehicle emissions. For more information on the EPA’s actions, visit www.fightingforair.org and click “Take Action.”

To view this year’s State of the Air report, visit www.stateoftheair.org.

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