Medford may fail air quality tests
Stiff new EPA standards make it harder for city
Medford is one of three areas in Oregon that might fail proposed federal air quality standards that place strict limits on pollution particles.
Medford is on the edge and could possibly violate the air standard, said Andy Ginsburg, administrator for the state Department of Environmental Quality in the air quality division.
The two other areas that might run afoul of the new rules include Klamath Falls and Oakridge.
Stephen L. Johnson, federal Environmental Protection Agency administrator, proposed the new air regulations this week as the culmination of thousands of scientific studies that show the harmful health effects of tiny particles in the air.
At 2.5 microns or smaller in size, or 1/30th the diameter of a human hair, these particles are generated by industry, woodstove or diesel emissions or open burning. If you see smoke, it generally has these tiny particles in it.
— Reducing particle pollution is part of the Bush administration's Clear Skies legislation.
Currently, the federal rules require that communities not exceed 65 micrograms of these particles for every cubic meter of air.
The new regulations, which could take effect by November 2006, would mandate that communities not exceed 35 micrograms per cubic meter.
At 35, Medford is right on the borderline, said Ginsburg. In addition, staff recommendations at the EPA suggest that based on potential health problems, the limit should be between 25 to 35 micrograms.
Based on data from 2002-2004, the average reading in Medford was 36, but data since 2000 show a general downward trend in pollution levels.
As part of the new federal regulations, Ginsburg said data would have to be compiled from 2004 to 2006 to provide a baseline to determine whether the area fails the new regulations.
With natural gas prices soaring, Ginsburg said local residents are using more woodstoves, which generate these problem particles.
Using woodstoves could give higher readings this year and next.
In both November and December, Medford had bad air days because of inversions that trap in woodstove smoke.
As part of a long-range plan to lessen the amount of particles, Ginsburg said local programs could offer incentives to get residents to swap out their old, dirty woodstoves for cleaner, EPA-approved models, and to encourage them to weatherize their houses.
The county also may have to become more restrictive about open burning and improve coordination with state officials to control burning in forests during air inversions. And local industry may have to do more to clean up emissions, Ginsburg said.
Local industry will be required to install new anti-emission equipment by 2007 under a different federal regulation that will have the net effect of reducing particle pollution.
Also, new diesel engines produced in 2007 will be significantly cleaner.
If the standards are approved by the federal government, the EPA will be required to identify areas in the country that don't meet the new standards by November 2008.
Communities that don't meet the standards will have to develop plans by 2012 and will be required to meet them by 2014.
County Commissioner Dave Gilmour, a doctor who is on the local air quality advisory committee, said health studies overwhelmingly show the link between pollution particles in the air and health problems.
There is no absolute minimal standard that is safe, he said, but added, It's impossible to get to zero pollution.
Asthma sufferers and those with respiratory problems are particularly vulnerable to relatively low amounts of particles in the air. Children, who have smaller airways, are also at risk, he said.
Recent studies also show a link between particle pollution and incidence of heart attacks, said Gilmour.
With the possibility of new federal regulations, he said it is all the more imperative that the county work on a better transportation system for the valley.
Jacksonville resident Conde Cox, who spearheaded a successful campaign to overturn a proposal to lessen air quality standards on local industries in 2004, said the federal standards are a step in the right direction.
I am pleased and optimistic about the future of air quality in the Rogue Valley, he said.
Cox said he feels vindicated by efforts locally to make sure industry doesn't pollute more.
In light of the scientific data cited by the EPA, he said, We may have prevented several deaths and prevented adverse health (effects).
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail Medford may fail air quality tests"firstname.lastname@example.org.