Better air quality in Tri-State requires awareness, cooperation among all three states

But formal pollution collaboration not mandatory
Posted at 12:00 PM, Sep 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-23 12:00:50-04

CINCINNATI -- Despite decades of improvements in air quality, the Tri-State continues to struggle with high pollution levels and recurrent air quality advisories.

And while new pollution regulations require neighboring states to play nice, they don’t necessarily have to play together.

Earlier this month the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized an update to the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), which requires 22 states in the eastern U.S. – including Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana – to address the transport across state lines of air pollution that affects the ability of downwind states to meet and maintain clean air standards. The rule does not, however, require any multi-jurisdictional partnerships or collaboration.

Jarrod Bell, environmental scientist consultant with the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection’s Division for Air Quality, said each state is technically responsible for itself, but states work with one another frequently. 

“Each state develops its own state implementation plan, but we keep the lines of communication open," Bell said. "We coordinate through communicating and sharing information.”

Each of the states also participates in the OKI Regional Council of Governments, which shares messaging regarding air quality with the community through a variety of advertising and marketing efforts meant to educate the public on how to reduce air pollution.

The campaign is a small but important project for the council, said Summer Jones, transportation alternatives coordinator. The awareness campaign doesn’t allow for any enforcement, but it does provide resources and suggestions to the community on how to lower emissions.

Similarly, the Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency develops public initiatives such as its Idle Free Campaign and Citizen Air Sampling Program in addition to regulating industrial air emissions for Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties.

Brad Miller, assistant director of the Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency, said the agency encourages voluntary programs such as the Idle Free Program and air quality advisories.

“Every little bit helps when trying to minimize your exposure," Miller said. "We should do anything that can be done to reduce those emissions.”

While air emissions across the Tri-State have been reduced over the last decade, stricter standards handed down by the EPA last October are harder to reach and maintain, Miller said.

The strengthened National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) calls for ground-level ozone levels to be at 70 parts per billion (ppb) or less, compared with to the previous standard of 75 ppb.

The American Thoracic Society and New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management issued a report earlier this summer stating that Cincinnati ranks 10th-worst in the nation for air pollution-related deaths and serious illnesses.

According to the report, the area saw 173 deaths and 298 major health episodes resulting from exceedingly high levels of air pollution in 2014. The region has a long history of smog problems caused by factories, highways and an active river valley.

EPA estimates that the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and other changes already underway in the power sector will cut ozone season emissions from power plants in the eastern United States by 20 percent – a reduction of 80,000 tons in 2017 compared to 2015 levels.

These pollutant reductions are expected to provide an estimated $880 million in benefits per year, including $810 million from the prevention of harmful and costly health effects such as:

- More than 67,000 asthma attacks.
- Almost 56,000 days of missed work and school.
- More than 240 hospital and emergency room visits.
- Up to 60 premature deaths.

In a statement, Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said the update “builds on the decades of success under the Clean Air Act that has led to significant cuts in nitrogen oxide emissions from upwind states that affect their downwind neighbors.”

This rule is the first time the EPA has updated an existing program to address interstate transport of air pollution under a new air quality standard.