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Air quality standards; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to revise Clean Air Act

SHERRY MAYS

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will decide the fate of Truckee’s air quality standards when it publishes its proposed revisions to the Clean Air Act in July.

To help the town understand impacts that Truckee may face, Rod Hill, Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District air pollution control officer, presented an overview of the proposed changes at the June 10 Nevada County Board of Supervisors meeting in Truckee.

He explained that the proposed revisions include stricter monitoring of ozone levels and particulate matter that clog human lungs and cloud Sierra skies.

If it was up to the Air Quality Standards Coalition, which is sponsored by the National Association of Manufacturers, the air standards would remain the same, according to a letter it intends to send to President Clinton. Revising the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) would greatly affect industries that emit particulates from manufacturing processes.

Hill said scare tactics from the industrial groups have to stop. He is unhappy with how industrial groups and opposing groups, such as the American Lung Association, and sending incorrect information to the public.

“All of the groups that oppose the revisions want an economic balance with human health benefits,” he said. “This is impossible and they have to realize that there have been plenty of studies to back up the EPA’s decision to help protect human health.”

Overall, there have been 185 scientific studies on ozone and 86 studies on particulate matter. The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Panel, which has overseen the studies, includes members of the scientific and industrial communities. Hill said members representing industry usually oppose increased environmental standards.

“When one member of the panel opposes EPA revisions, organizations like the Coalition use this as their defense,” he said. “When one or two people don’t agree, these groups skew the information.” Hill added that the studies provided overwhelming information stating that public health is not being protected as it should be and that more stringent standards are required.

Protection against ozone exposure is needed for people with respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchitis. Exercising adults are at risk during peak hours of emissions and the elderly are at risk of higher incidences of respiratory illnesses and premature death. Children are also at risk of developing lifelong respiratory ailments and more sensitive lungs.

Hill is concerned that Truckee may never be able to comply with the decrease in allowable levels of particulate matter. He said that the district’s greatest concern for Truckee’s future is “smart planning.”

The EPA proposes to reduce the particulate matter (PM) being monitored from PM10 to PM2.5. PM10 particles are larger than PM2.5 particles and, while PM10 particles are coarse and tend to deposit in in the lungs, PM2.5 particles get past the lungs and penetrate deep into lung tissue. Particulates, whether large or small, increase problems within the respiratory system. The studies reported that prolonged exposure to a mix of ozone and PM2.5 can irritate lung tissue and introduce carcinogens into an already weakened system.

Hill said during the 1992-93 winter, monitoring was done to determine what part of the PM10 being reported was actually PM2.5. The results showed that 80 percent of PM10 is PM2.5. If the standards were revised, Truckee, along with Quincy, Portola, Grass Valley and Nevada City, would be in non-attainment. Violating the standards would be costly to area businesses and the towns themselves.

Hill said that measures could be taken now to help improve Truckee’s air. A portion of the measures depends on cooperation from the Union Pacific Railroad. In an agreement made with the Town of Truckee last year, Union Pacific agreed to pay $300,000 to help with an incentive program for Truckee residents. The funds, which will be given to the town when the merger is finalized, will go toward helping residents offset the costs of upgrading old non-EPA-complying woodstoves, to new heating alternatives. The alternatives include cleaner woodstoves, natural-gas stoves, propane heaters and geothermal heat pumps. As the merger would increase emissions from increased railroad travel, the incentive program would target residential pollution.

“The number of old woodstoves need to be reduced,” Hill said. “That is the No. 1 cause of Truckee’s bad air quality.”

In addition to woodstove reductions, Hill advised that the EPA should provide public education to both the public and industry to generate a fuller understanding of health impacts. He also suggested that prescribed burning policies should be designed to acknowledge that fire is a natural part of forest ecosystems, but humans have been creating a potentially catastrophic buildup of forest fuels by controlling fire for too long.

By prescribing burns, wildfires, which cause greater smoke impacts and emissions, can be avoided. Open burning in residential areas may be another step that Truckee can take. Hill reported that Quincy has already taken this step successfully. Taking a preventative, pro-active role in air pollution has proven to be more cost-effective.

It was suggested that pro-active measures be taken to reduce low-level ozone. They include reducing area source emissions; providing bicycle and pedestrian trails and providing incentives for people using carpooling, vanpooling, public transportation, telecommuting, clean-fueled vehicles or electric vehicles. The EPA reported that the new standards will cost $6.5 to $8.5 billion dollars to implement nationwide.

While these costs may seem high, the estimated $120 billion saved in health care, property damage and crop damage outweighs the implementation costs.

After the EPA revises its standards, there will be a period of time before the new standards are implemented. The ozone non-attainment area designations go into effect in July 2000 and PM2.5 designations go into effect sometime between July 2002 and 2004. Hill strongly urged the board to begin cleaning up Truckee’s air now.


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