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Oregon studies tightening its ozone requirements

Medford smog levels are slightly lower than new federal standards released this week, but Oregon environmental officials are considering their own set of tougher requirements that could put this area out of compliance with the state.

The new federal standards mean an area needs to take some action to reduce ozone levels if it has an average 74 parts per billion of ozone or more compared to the old standard of 84. In Medford, the most recent ozone average calculated over three years is just shy of 68 parts per billion.

Ozone, produced by vehicles and other sources, is one of the main culprits in creating smog.

William Knight, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Quality, said the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee recommended to the EPA that the standard be set from 60 to 70 parts per billion because of health concerns.

Oregon officials also recommended the federal Environmental Protection Agency adopt the more stringent rules of the advisory committee.

A letter from the DEQ in September 2007 said scientific studies have found adverse lung effects in healthy adults at 60 parts per billion. The letter expressed concern about other studies that have found forests damaged by ozone exposure.

As a result, Knight said there is discussion among DEQ officials to set stricter requirements in Oregon based on the science advisory committee's proposal.

He said he expects public discussion of any new requirements possibly by this summer.

"We have to take a hard look at that and decide what's best for Oregon," said Knight. "We'll have hearings, particularly if we're going to propose a stricter standard."

Other areas in Oregon — Portland, Salem and Eugene — also could be affected by the state requirements, but the Medford-Ashland airshed typically has the highest readings in the state for ozone, he said.

Medford's ozone levels have on average hovered around 70 parts per billion for the past 10 years.

The DEQ is confident that air quality will continue to improve in Medford and other areas because of advances in automobile pollution controls and a new strategy to deal with greenhouse gases.

In the Medford area, the vehicle emission inspection program has helped keep cars running cleaner, said Knight.

In December 2005, Oregon's Environmental Quality Commission adopted rules to start pushing for low-emission vehicles, following a trend in 11 other states based on California standards.

The rules tighten ozone emission standards, promote zero-emission vehicles and cut greenhouse gases. The program applies only to new cars and trucks and will be phased in beginning with the 2009 model year. When the rules take full effect in model year 2016, the state expects greenhouse gas emissions will be cut 30 percent and fuel efficiency will improve.

"Cars are just going to get cleaner," said Knight.

Industry in Jackson County already faces strict pollution controls and new equipment being installed on timber products companies also will help, said Knight.

Ozone advisories are issued in the Medford area as an early warning for those who are the most sensitive to air pollution, including children, the elderly and people who suffer from asthma or other types of respiratory ailments.

If the new technologies result in significantly cleaner air, Knight said Medford could fall into compliance fairly quickly, even with population increases.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.