2010 April 21: KY: Northern Kentucky & Cincinnati OH: Air quality needs more improvement

2010 April 21: OH Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky: Air quality needs more improvement

By Mike Rutledge • mrutledge@nky.com • April 21, 2010

     

    CORRYVILLE – Local air quality has improved since the first Earth Day 40 years ago, but you wouldn’t know it based on air-quality advisories. That’s because federal standards for the air we breathe have become more stringent over time.

    Expect both trends – better air quality, and perhaps more air advisories – to continue, says Anna Kelley, monitoring and analysis supervisor for the Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services.
    "All of our concentrations (of pollutants) over time, they are decreasing, but what’s changing is the standard," Kelley said.
    Still, the American Lung Association last year gave grades of F to local counties for their number of high-ozone days: Hamilton, Butler, Clermont, Warren, Boone, Campbell and Kenton.
    And the association listed the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area was among the country’s top 15 most polluted areas for ozone and year-round particle pollution, notes Shelly Kiser, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Ohio.
    "We are making some progress, but not enough to protect health," Kiser said. "So we’ve got a way to go."
    The lung association plans to issue its newest State of the Air report next week.
    Standards are getting tougher because scientists better understand now how pollutants harm people, Kiser said. That’s especially true of chemicals that cause smog, plus microscopic particles that can lodge deep into the lungs and also cause long-term heart problems, killing tens of thousands of Americans per year.
    "Science has gotten better and we’ve started to understand how these pollutants affect our health," Kiser said. "And we’ve started to understand that they are affecting our health at smaller levels."
    Smog is created when oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds bake in sunlight in the lower atmosphere, causing breathing problems for children, the elderly and people with respiratory diseases.
    "Ozone causes kind of like a sunburn for your lungs," Kiser said. It increases asthma attacks, coughing, and boosts the risks of infection and death.
    Air quality today "is better than when I started 20-some years ago," Kelley said. "And definitely you can see that in the number of (pollution-level) exceedences – when I started in 1988, that was a hot, dry summer and we had … 57 exceedences of the ozone standard.
    Since 1989, no year has 10 or more violations of the one-hour standards, compared to six years with 10 or more during the 1980s.
    Here’s another measure: In the mid-1960s, the annual mean for total suspended particles of 100 microns or less reached close to 130 or higher three years. Then for three years around 1970, the annual mean hovered around 100. Last year the mean, measured downtown, was 30, down from about 50 in 2000.
    "I think overall the region’s doing a good job of trying to control pollution, but the standard is getting tighter, due to the health effects," Kelley said. "You may hear more smog alerts, those type of things … just because the standard is getting lower."
    Here’s how much tougher the federal ozone standards are becoming: Not only may Greater Cincinnati have trouble meeting them, but so may other regions of the country that "maybe have not been in violation of the ozone standard before," Kelly said.
    Photos celebrate our corner of the Earth

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