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Sharing the burden

Medford's air quality could be affected by industries in Roseburg, Klamath Falls. Oregon's DEQ wants to regionalize the standards

A proposed widening of the geographical area covered by state smog rules could mean tighter restrictions on industries as far away as Grants Pass and Roseburg.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is proposing the regulations for new or expanding industries within a radius of 62 air miles from Medford, not including California.

We want to recognize this is a regional issue more than a local issue, said John Becker, DEQ regional air- quality manager.

A DEQ analysis shows prevailing winds funnel down Interstate 5 toward Medford from as far away as Washington, potentially bringing smog.

— Ozone levels in the Medford area, while not exceeding federal standards, have shown an upward trend in recent years because of increasing population.

We are fairly close to the ozone standard, Becker said. Our airshed is like a bathtub, so we can only take so much.

Sources of the compounds that create ozone include solvents, cars and even hairsprays. The new regulations would not cover pollutants such as particulates generated by the timber industry or road debris churned up by cars.

A DEQ hearing on the proposed regulations will be held at — p.m. Oct. 23 in the Jackson County Courthouse auditorium. The new rules could be in place within six months.

Becker said the DEQ wants to deal aggressively with what could become a serious problem in Jackson County as population grows.

Existing rules apply only to new and expanding industries that produce 40 tons or more of volatile compounds annually in an area that extends from Ashland to Rogue River and from Eagle Point to Jacksonville.

The Kodak plant in White City is one of the biggest stationary sources of these compounds in the area, according to the DEQ.

However, Kodak has reduced the amount of pollutants generated annually from 705 tons in 1999 to 616 in 2001. Under the company's original permit issued in 1978, it could generate up to 3,170 tons annually.

Plants like Kodak that reduce pollution create so-called clean air credits that can be purchased by other new or expanding industries.

As part of the new standards,the DEQ would calculate how ozone-producing compounds are dispersed as they flow from areas outside of Jackson County, and how much of the smog locally comes from outside sources.

Phil Allen, DEQ air quality senior modeler, said an industry in Roseburg, for example, might have to produce at least 100 tons of pollutants annually to significantly affect this area because some pollution naturally disperses.

Another industry in Klamath Falls might produce as much or more pollution as a Roseburg industry but have less impact on the Medford area because the wind doesn't generally flow from that direction, he said.

We're in the middle of a study to determine just that question, said Allen.

Under the new standards, industries in other areas could purchase clean air credits from companies like Kodak that have reduced pollution levels, he said.

Ozone levels are monitored at an air-testing station in Talent, said Becker, because prevailing winds blow it in that direction, where it settles in the surrounding hills.

A bronchial and eye irritant, ozone is a clear, odorless gas that is particularly harmful to children, the elderly and people with asthma and other lung problems.

We came really close to exceeding the standard in June, said Becker. We asked people to voluntarily cut back on activities and called for a Clean Air Action Day.

Vehicle emissions inspector Juergen Bigalke uses a mirror to check an older car's catalytic converter as part of state pollution inspections. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli