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Fayette, metro meet ozone requirements

A 20-county area of metro Atlanta has met federal requirements relating to the 1997 “8-hour ozone standard.” Though noted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a Dec. 2 announcement, the bottom line is that none of the restrictions put in place will be relaxed or removed now that the attainment criteria has been met.

Most motorists see the effect of the EPA rules at the gasoline pump in higher prices for reformulated gasoline during the spring and summer months.

EPA in the Dec. 2 announcement said it is taking final action to approve the state of Georgia’s request to redesignate the Atlanta area to attainment of the 1997 8-hour ozone standard. This action is based on air quality monitoring data for the three-year period of 2008, 2009, and 2010 that meets the standard. The area continues to attain this standard, according to EPA.

Contacted Monday, EPA Deputy Director of the Air Division Carol Kemker explained that metro Atlanta residents receive a reward for their efforts by continuing to breathe clean air.

The various restrictions will remain in place, though Georgia has the option of proposing a feasible demonstration project which would use fewer restrictions, Kemker said.

Among the criteria in place to meet the attainment were the requirement that any manufacturer’s fleet meet guidelines dealing with the release of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and sulfur, that NOx emissions in non-road diesel engines be cut by 90 percent and the reduction of sulfur content in heavy-duty diesel engines.

According to EPA, ground level or “bad” ozone is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between NOx and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight. Emissions from industrial facilities and electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors and chemical solvents are some of the major sources of NOx and VOC.

Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. Ground level ozone also can reduce lung function and inflame the linings of the lungs. Repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissue, EPA said.

“This is a great accomplishment for the Atlanta area, a product of strong collaboration among government, the business community, environmental organizations and ordinary citizens,” said acting EPA Regional Administrator Stan Meiburg. “Together with our partners at the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, we look forward to continued progress in improving Atlanta’s air quality.”

The progress made in the 20-county Atlanta area is a result of hard work and great cooperation among local, state and federal agencies, private partners and the over four million Georgians who live and work in the Atlanta area, according to EPA. The Atlanta area counties impacted by the attainment action include Barrow, Bartow, Carroll, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Hall, Henry, Newton, Paulding, Rockdale, Spalding and Walton.

“All of metropolitan Atlanta can be proud of this major accomplishment. Everyone should be applauded, from citizens who keep their vehicles in good running condition to industries and power plants that have invested in improved emission controls,” said Judson H. Turner, Director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. “It has taken many years, but the results are cleaner air and a healthier place to live and work.”

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