By ELIZABETH VARIN,Staff Writer
Sunday, February 14, 2010 12:06 AM PST
Dust-reducing air quality regulations are a good step forward, but not enough, wrote the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a proposal signed Thursday.
A 30-day public comment period will begin as soon as the proposal is filed with the federal registry, which could happen within two weeks, said Air Pollution Control District Officer Brad Poiriez. Until then and afterward, the office will be looking into whether it agrees with the EPA’s findings and prepares to submit comments.
“It’s going to take some time for us to review and see if we agree with them,” he said.
A final decision will come after the 30-day public comment period, he said.
The district has been working to implement the rules since they passed in 2005, Poiriez said. They were one of three bases that the airborne dust reduction plan was based on.
Known as a State Implementation Plan, the document, prepared by the county’s Air Pollution Control District, is a requirement under the federal Clean Air Act for areas designated “nonattainment,” or high air pollution zones. The plan needs approval from county, state and federal regulators.
The Air Pollution Control District board approved the plan Aug. 11.
The county State Implementation Plan is designed to monitor, explain and suggest ways to improve the county’s PM-10 levels. PM-10 refers to super-fine dust-like particles that are small enough to bypass the body’s natural defenses against dust and other irritants, and contribute to asthma and other respiratory diseases.
In December, the EPA made a determination about another of the bases of the implementation plan, saying that high wind events are not an excuse for high levels of dust.
The more recent decision to give limited approval and disapproval for the rules could lead to the federal government not approving the implementation plan, Poiriez said. However, those rules were approved after working with the EPA and industries affected by the change in Imperial County.
All parties approved of the rules then, he said.
The EPA’s decision to change its idea about the rule may have been due to a lawsuit where the EPA and San Joaquin Air Pollution Control District were sued about the air quality, Poiriez said.
“It’s like they pull the rug out from under you,” he said.
The decision to give limited approval came after comparing Imperial County to other areas like Arizona, Nevada and California with similar problems, said Amy Zimpfer, associate director for air division of the EPA southwest region.
While the rules are a good step forward, some don’t meet the best available control measures, she said. There are four significant sources of particulate matter in the county: open off-road vehicle areas, unpaved roads, agriculture tilling and dust from agriculture fields.
Its problem comes from the fine particulate matter that reaches deep into the lungs and is linked to a variety of health problems, she said. It aggravates asthma and can lead to preventable deaths for people with heart and lung disease.
The response from the EPA shows that the county needs to propose better rules, said Luis Olmedo, executive director of Comite Civico.
“Today reflects a victory for the residents of Imperial Valley,” he said. “It demonstrates that U.S. EPA recognizes that there are considerable health threats due to particulate matter, and that Imperial County can do more to protect public health.”
>> Staff Writer Elizabeth Varin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-337-3441.