Ozone levels are weather
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — People are literally breathing easier in the Mahoning Valley these days.
The reason? Cleaner air.
As proof, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 has approved a request by the state of Ohio to redesignate Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties as having attained the national health-based, eight-hour standard for ground level ozone, or smog.
Attaining the EPA’s designation signifies that ambient, or outdoor, air is cleaner, which is good news for everyone.
Cleaner air is particularly welcome to the people with respiratory problems, such as asthma, and the one in three Americans who are susceptible to health problems when ozone levels rise above the EPA standard of .08 parts per million, said Larry Himes, administrator of the Mahoning-Trumbull Air Pollution Control Agency.
While public health is the primary reason for wanting to reach EPA outdoor air quality standards, there are also possible penalties for failing to meet EPA requirements that could include loss of federal highway funds and prohibition of new construction, Himes said.
The air pollution control agency, a division of the Youngstown City Health District, maintains air monitoring devices at sites in Youngstown, Warren, Vienna and Kinsman, Himes said.
Information gathered by those devices in 2004, 2005 and 2006 led to the three counties attaining the national standard, but just barely.
The readings in Mahoning County, Kinsman and Vienna were .077 parts per million, .079 parts per million and .083 parts per million, respectively. Because the law permits rounding off, the .083 in Vienna was reduced to .080, enabling the area to meet EPA standards.
Local ozone levels have been going down annually, said Himes, for three basic reasons — cleaner operating vehicles, stricter air pollution controls on industry, and, to a lesser degree, volunteer efforts such as car pooling and anti-idling programs.
He noted that the area hasn’t had an air quality index rating of unhealthy since 2003.
Ozone is formed when the sun causes a chemical change in pollutants in the air, such as emissions from paint thinners and petroleum products, that is toxic above certain levels, Himes said.
The result is a respiratory irritant which can lead to inflammation and coughing, especially in people with health problems. It is particularly hard on the very young and the very old, Himes said.
Ozone levels are weather driven, Himes added.
Ozone levels are only monitored between April 1 and Oct. 31 because sunlight and stagnant air are needed for the chemical reaction to occur, he said.
Wind direction also can be a factor, Himes continued.
For instance, the ozone level is higher in Vienna and Kinsman in central and northern Trumbull County, relatively rural areas, than in Youngstown.
The explanation, Himes said, involves time and the prevailing southwest wind.
The precursors needed for ozone may enter the air in Canton or Akron. But, by the time the sun has caused the chemical reaction to make them toxic, they may have been blown many miles northeast to Kinsman and Vienna, Himes said.