Air quality researchers say county could drop below EPA-standards

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Feb. 9, 2012 at 7:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 9, 2012 at 8:10 p.m.

Air Victoria and local industry leaders in the technical and community advisory committees met Thursday at Lyondell Basell to discuss area ozone issues to keep the county in federal compliance.

Since the mid-1970s, Victoria County has had problems attaining the Environmental Protection Agency's national air quality standards for ozone formation, according to information from the city.

Ozone is a highly reactive gas composed of three oxygen atoms. Where it is in the atmosphere can mean drastically different impacts on life.

Stratospheric ozone reduces the amount of harmful UV radiation that reaches Earth's surface. However, ground-level ozone, which is a byproduct of the combustion of fossil fuels, is a pollutant, said Marie Lester, environmental programs coordinator for the city.

If the EPA tightens the standard, Victoria County could fall out of compliance, Lester said.

The county is "near non-attainment" for the EPA's standard on ozone levels, measured in parts per billion. In an average of three years, Victoria County measures 70 parts-per-billion. The maximum, according to EPA standards, is 75, Lester said.

During Thursday's meeting, Lester, a University of Texas at Austin professor and local industry leaders discussed how to reduce that number.

"In Victoria, most ozone comes from outside the area," said ozone expert Cyril Durrenberger, of the University of Texas at Austin. "We have very little control over our destiny here."

Durrenberger said he and his researchers measured ozone levels between 70 and 80 parts-per-billion upwind of the county.

His task is finding where the ozone came from by testing smoke stacks and, measuring area emissions from gasoline refueling, on-road and off-road emissions including vehicles, diesel equipment and construction equipment, and biogenic sources such as Oak trees.

One attendee asked why Victoria's efforts mattered if so much ozone was transported to the area.

"If we can just lower it by two parts-per-billion, we would stay in attainment," Lester said. "Every little tiny bit counts."

She said Air Victoria's message to residents is to take care of your vehicle, stop idling your vehicle and stop at the click when filing your gas tank. City programs that support these initiatives include the Car Clinic Program and the Blue Sky Initiative.



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