Regulars and Shorts

Summer Ozone, pt.2

By Ashley Miller

Last month we learned about summer air pollution and what we can do to reduce emissions that lead to ozone formation. Here’s how the EPA is helping Utah meet goals for cleaner air.

Ozone pollution has increased in several Utah counties in recent years. By just how much was announced by the EPA last month.

The EPA designates non-attainment areas when regions fail to maintain the national standards, and then gives the state a series of deadlines that the Division of Air Quality must meet.

Reviewing air quality data from 2014-2016, the EPA found that Salt Lake and Davis counties, as well as parts of Weber, Tooele, Utah, Uintah and Duchesne counties periodically have too much ozone in the air and have officially designated these areas as Marginal Non-Attainment, meaning these areas exceeded the new ozone standard by a small margin.

The air quality standard for ozone set by the EPA was dropped from 75 ppb to 70 ppb in October 2015 after many scientific studies suggested the average healthy adult would begin to suffer adverse health effects when exposed to ozone greater than 72 ppb. Other air quality advocates throughout the country  said  65 ppb was a better number for protecting public health. Regardless, local air quality groups, Breathe Utah included, agree the new standard will result in better health for Utahns, even if a lower standard could have had much greater impacts.

A marginal designation is the least stringent classification for a non-attainment area and does not require the state to submit a formal State Implementation Plan, or SIP. It gives the state three years to come up with ways to meet the standard.

Though Utah failed to meet the new lower standard by even a small margin, the Division of Air Quality remains confident that they are on a good path to meet the standard by the 2021 deadline based on what is already planned to show compliance with the other pollution problem, PM2.5.

This is one of the benefits of a SIP. When Utah had to do a SIP for PM10 in the late 1980s, the controls put into play greatly reduced PM2.5, though we aren’t out of the woods with that one just yet.

The Division will continue to take steps to address ozone pollution in the state. Recently, the Air Quality Board approved new rules to limit volatile organic compounds, (VOC), emissions, a big contributor to the formation of ozone. Tier 3 vehicle standards and Tier 3 fuels will also aid to reduce the formation of ozone.

The hot and dry summer months pose a problem for the Wasatch Front when it comes to ozone. But, unlike the Wasatch Front, ozone also forms during the winter in the Uinta Basin. This wintertime formation of ozone is believed to be connected to the oil and gas extraction industry.

The recently adopted rules for small oil and gas operations in the Uinta Basin and stronger Leak Detection and Repair will help reduce the emissions that lead to ozone formation in the Basin. u

Ashley Miller, J.D., is the program and policy director for Breathe Utah. She is a member of the state’s Air Quality Policy Advisory Board and is also on the Salt Lake County Health Department Environmental Quality Advisory Commission.

This article was originally published on May 31, 2018.