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Summer ozone imperils economy

High ’12 levels could trigger regulations

– The hot, baking summer of 2012 not only seemed to torture residents, but it could also affect future economic development in Allen County and even which road projects get funded.

Dan Avery, executive director of the regional transportation planning body, the Northeast Indiana Regional Coordinating Council, told the Urban Transportation Advisory Board on Tuesday that the ozone levels last summer were so high, they raised the three-year average the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency looks at to determine whether a county is violating national pollution standards.

In the upper atmosphere, ozone protects the Earth from harmful ultraviolet rays. But near the ground, it is the main ingredient in smog and is a powerful respiratory irritant that can send asthmatics, children and the elderly to the hospital. Ozone is created when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react with sunlight.

Avery said the Northeast Indiana Regional Coordinating Council is updating its estimates of Allen County’s ozone levels in 2020, using a new, more accurate model and updated information. Even the economy has had an effect, he said.

“Back when (auto) leases were popular, you had a lot of fleet turnover, because people would lease a car for a few years and then turn it in and get a new one, so you were constantly putting the newest, most efficient cars on the road,” Avery said.

“With the recession, leasing almost stopped, and people who owned their cars held on to them longer.”

That kept less-efficient cars on the road, he said, which meant more pollution than officials had expected. Add in the record-setting temperatures of 2012 and the higher levels of ozone they brought, and the result could be violations.

A violation is based on a three-year average of the fourth-highest ozone reading each year. Last summer’s fourth-highest reading – 0.074 parts per million reached Aug. 24 – was the highest such reading since 2007. The highest reading of 2012 – 0.094 on June 28, when it was 106 degrees – was the highest since 1999.

“The concern is, if we have a few hot summers, we could find ourselves in trouble,” Avery said.

“Trouble” would be new restrictions on air pollution permits for businesses, which could lead companies that want to locate in Allen County to go elsewhere. It could also mean that more of the federal transportation money coming here would have to be dedicated to projects that reduce congestion and ease pollution.

“The primary concern is health,” Avery told board members. “While we look at it as a process for how it impacts transportation systems, the important thing is it’s a health issue.”

According to the EPA, ground-level ozone reduces lung function, irritates airways, increases the frequency of asthma attacks, increases susceptibility to respiratory infection, and aggravates chronic lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis.

Board chairman Roy Buskirk jokingly suggested requiring any new industrial facilities to locate on the eastern edge of the county, so their emissions will blow into Ohio.