Ozone Alert Program Up to Challenge

As we launch another Ozone Alert Season, there is plenty to be proud of looking back over the past nearly two decades.
This ozone season is much like the past 18 in that Tulsa has a challenge to overcome the strict U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for clean air. The season runs through mid-September and this year determines whether Tulsa County will remain in attainment or violate the national standard for ozone and wind.
It is through the efforts of Nancy Graham, air quality program manager for the Indian Nations Council of Governments, INCOG, and the City of Tulsa that the metro region has done so well.
Tulsa has made progress cleaning the air, said Brett Fidler, Mayor Kathy Taylor’s special adviser for sustainability. Fidler spoke during this month’s kick-off event at Drillers’ Stadium.
Air particulates in Tulsa fell from 93 ppb in 2000 to an average 79 ppb for the 2004-06 period, Fidler said. The average climbed to 80 ppb in 2007 but fell to 78 ppb last year.
A month ago, Scott Thomas, an environmental programs manager for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, warned local officials during a DEQ Air Quality Advisory Council meeting the region and state hangs in the balance.
The EPA raised the standard for smog to the draconian level of 75 parts per billion a year ago, meaning areas with 76 ppb and higher are in violation. Previously, the standard was 84 ppb.
“We have one year of ozone data to look at,” Thomas said, referring to the the period of 2007-2008. The EPA, using a three-year average, announces its decision next March, when the agency declares those areas in violation and re-classifies them by degrees: Marginal, moderate, serious, severe and extreme.
Tulsa has remained avoided being placed on the so-called “dirty air” since 1991. Tulsa was in non-attainment for ozone prior to 1990. In 1991, when the city experienced high ozone days, the nation’s first Ozone Alert! Program was “born,” Graham said. Tulsa’s average, based on figures from 2007-08 is 79 ppb. Currently the more stringent standard pushes nine counties into violation — Canadian, Cherokee, Comanche, Creek, Kay, Mayes, Oklahoma, Ottawa and Tulsa. Records reveal the state’s two metropolitan counties — Tulsa and Oklahoma — had two monitoring sites exceed the 75 ppb standard last year.
This year, rain and cool temperatures welcomed the alert season.
“We’ll have no problem with ozone with weather like this,” said John Self, chairman of INCOG’s Air Quality Committee.
The ozone problem is bigger than Tulsa, said John Smaligo, Tulsa County Commissioner. Everyday choices like driving less and using gas-powered lawn equipment in the evening hours are important.
“We need to be pro-active to reduce the ozone levels,” said Smaligo.
One way officials are pro-active is through Tulsa Transit. The public system, through the sponsorship by Lafarge, is offering “50-cent Fridays’ from mid-May to mid-September.
The Ozone Alert program is important to the Tulsa community because ground-level ozone is a health issue, Graham said.
Tulsa’s air has greatly improved over the last decade, said Selph.
“This improvement is due in large part to the voluntary actions of our community,” he said.
Every year when the Ozone Season comes around, we say this is the most important year ever.
SDLqThis one is no exception,” Graham said.
Through work and determination the entire state remained in attainment for a decade. We expect that hard work will carry us through another successful season.

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