Summer heat fuels MPO concerns over air quality

Summer heat fuels MPO concerns over air quality

Ozone levels flirting with EPA standards

Hot summer months can make one sweat — air quality officials more than others. The high summer temperatures bring the highest potential for chart-breaking ozone levels, and when attainment of an acceptable ozone level is a key to federal highway funding, the West Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization keeps a close eye on local readings.

The MPO compiles the local air quality reports and makes transportation and road plans in the area. Study Director Eddie Brawley reported the latest results to the group with his fingers crossed.

“We always concentrate on the Marion monitor, but we need to look at all the monitors, because if one goes out (of attainment) then all the rest of the area goes out, too,” said Brawley. “But right now we are leading the pack.”

Going above or outside the maximum ozone goal means the desired mark was not attained. Too many non-attainment days in the area make it tough for transportation planners counting on federal funds. Air quality measuring stations in the area are at the water tower in Marion along with monitors in Frayser, Shelby Farms, Hernando and Orgill (in Memphis).

Marion leads the pack with the .067 PPM (parts per million), the highest average ozone in the pack.

The measure allows for a few days to be over and scratched but the standards are getting stricter and attainment more challenging. At the Marion monitor three days have been at the maximum goal or above already this year.

The fourth highest reading we can have is .079 PPM, and we have a .070,” said Brawley. “If we go over that again any time this year that would put us outside attainment.

It’s like playing golf, low numbers are good, and these hot days are the hardest.”

The area only recently reclaimed attainment status. In 2008, Crittenden County was given the designation of “non-attainment” for the ozone standard. But in March of this year, the EPA declared the whole of the Memphis Metropolitan region re-designated as having attained compliance with the standard.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson had asked the EPA to change the area’s designation late last year. A non-attainment designation can hinder economic development, particularly in industrial realms, as approval for new business and industry that could result in a larger ozone footprint is difficult to get from the EPA and Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

By John Rech