RELATED: OEPA director addresses drinking-water notifications, proposed budget cuts in Howland
Youngstown is among the Ohio cities with the highest levels of air pollution, according to a report by Environment America Research & Policy Center.
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman had the second-highest number of days with elevated smog pollution in Ohio with 71 in 2015. Cincinnati led with 88. Cleveland-Elyria had the third-highest with 68 and Columbus followed with 61.
Of those 71 days, only four of the days were unhealthy for sensitive groups. The rest were considered moderate.
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Craig Butler said one of the factors that increases Youngstown area smog numbers is that smog measurements are affected by “where the wind blows.”
In other words, the smog measured in the Youngstown area is also coming from downwind areas to the west and northwest, such as Cleveland or Akron.
But overall, the state has made progress on its air pollution, he said.
The federal government measures pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and lead.
“Just look at the progress we have made,” Butler said during a talk in Howland on Thursday afternoon sponsored by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. “We’re virtually in compliance with all the federal rules.”
Because the Cleveland area doesn’t quite meet the federal rules, it has the e-check program, which requires vehicle owners in Cuyahoga and six surrounding counties to have their vehicle inspected and maintained to control vehicle emissions.
Cleveland is close to meeting the federal standards, Butler said.
Tara Cioffi, administrator for the Mahoning-Trumbull Air Pollution Control Agency, said the Youngstown area’s air-pollution levels have declined over the years and are in compliance with state and federal rules.
While she hasn’t seen the Environment America Research & Policy Center report and couldn’t comment on its accuracy, she said: “When I see these reports from various organizations that show pollution levels that are high, while our numbers show that we’re getting better, it raises red flags when it’s not an issue.”
The Youngstown area experiences days when ozone is generated, largely when there is a large amount of sunlight and pollution, such as fuel use, though the area is not in violation of state and federal Environmental Protection Agency standards.
High ozone can impact the health of children, the elderly and those with respiratory conditions, she said.
Felicia Armstrong, an associate professor at Youngstown State University who has a doctorate in environmental soil science, said the area sees a lot more smog when its hot and sunny out. When its sunny and there are gas-powered engines running, volatile organic compounds or VOCs enter the air and cause smog.
“When it is hot we need to avoid driving our cars,” Armstrong said. “We should avoid mowing our lawns. We can all do something to help our air quality ...”
Three metropolitan areas in Ohio outpaced Youngstown for days with elevated particulate matter pollution also known as soot. Weirton-Steubenville had 196, Akron had 188 and Cleveland-Elyria had 175.
Youngstown had 142. Of those days, 141 were listed as moderate and one was listed as unhealthy.
The report says elevated ozone pollution, or smog, aggravates respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, including asthma.
Elevated particulate matter can increase the risk of pregnant women having early deliveries.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, moderate levels of smog and particulate matter are “acceptable.”
When the levels are unhealthy for sensitive groups, children, older adults and people with heart or lung disease may experience health problems.
Nationally, Californian metropolitan areas had the highest number of days with elevated smog pollution. San Bernardino, Bakersfield and Los Angeles all had more than 200 days with elevated smog levels.
Contributors: Justin Wier, David Skolnick and Kalea Hall.