Smog-limit compliance hazy for Lake, Porter

Posted: 1/8/2010

From Northwest Indiana Post-Times

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed stricter health standards for smog, replacing a Bush-era limit that ran counter to scientific recommendations.

The new limits will likely put hundreds of counties nationwide in violation -- including Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.

The designation will require counties to find more ways to clamp down on pollution or face government sanctions, most likely the loss of federal highway dollars.

EPA proposed a new range of 60 to 70 parts per billion. Based on monitoring data from 2006 to 2008, Lake and Porter counties would violate a standard of 70 parts per billion or lower. Lake County was at 77 parts per billion over those three years while Porter was at 74 parts per billion. The current standard, set by former President George Bush, is 75 parts per billion.

"The highest thing EPA is considering is going to be a difficulty for Lake and Porter and other counties," said Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs with the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. "If (EPA does) anything other than the minimum, that's going to make it almost certain they'll have to get a plan in place to meet that standard."

He said Lake and Porter counties could see efforts to reduce ozone as in Illinois, which adopted rules to limit the amount of volatile organic compounds in paint. Urbaszewski said a plan could also include more pollution controls on power plants.

Smog forms when emissions from burning gasoline, power and chemical plants, refineries and other factories bake in sunlight. Smog can trigger asthma and cause shortness of breath, chest pain, coughing and wheezing.

Norman Edelman, chief medical officer with the American Lung Association said ozone burns sensitive issues such as eyes, nose, mouth and airways.

"The effects can be readily seen. At 80 parts per billion, you can see inflammatory effects in a short period of time. In some studies, when you put people in a chamber with ozone of 60 parts per billion, it may take six hours to see inflammation, but you will see inflammation."

Seniors, children and people with lung and heart disease are vulnerable.

Tom Easterly, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said most counties nationwide would have problems meeting a standard of 60 parts per billion, but that Northwest Indiana will be close if the standard is 70 parts per billion.

"The real issue is, what's the level that protects public health?" he said. "But our air keeps getting cleaner."

Counties and states will have up to 20 years to meet the new limits, depending how severely they are out of compliance. They will have to submit plans for meeting the new limits by the end of 2013 or early 2014. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Original posted here