The Utah Department of Environmental Quality lists Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Box Elder and Tooele counties as all currently in violation of the new 2008 federal 8-hour ozone standard announced Wednesday by the Environmental Protection Agency.
"We're going to have to figure out how we're going to meet the new standard," said state DEQ director Cheryl Heying. "My experience is the standards get tighter and we continue to meet them.
"We do it," she added. "It's a new standard. We will work and figure out a way to do it and move forward."
By 2010 the EPA will begin designating non-attainment areas. That gives states three years to write implementation plans. Counties in violation of the new ozone standard could end up losing federal highway funds.
"That's the way they get our attention," Heying said. "But we never get to that point because we take it seriously."
Revised for the first time in over 10 years at 75 parts per billion, down from the 80 ppb old standard, the EPA estimates there are 345 monitored counties across the country that would violate the new standard. Based on data the EPA used from 2004-2006 monitoring, Washington County would also be in violation of the new ozone standard.
EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said in a statement that the nation's air is cleaner today than a generation ago.
"By meeting the requirement of the Clean Air Act and strengthening the national standard for ozone, EPA is keeping our clean air progress moving forward," he said. By signing off on the new standard, Johnson said the Clean Air Act must be modernized and overhauled to turn "paper promises" into cleaner air. The EPA claims a 21 percent drop in ozone levels nationwide since 1980.
Prior to the new standard being set, the 2008 Utah Legislature had already appropriated $2 million to help meet air quality regulations. Heying said the extra money, in part, came in anticipation of the EPA's new standard, which the EPA calls its most stringent 8-hour standard ever for ozone.
Ozone pollution can result from a variety of sources. In Salt Lake County half of the culprit is people driving their cars, Heying said. The rest tends to come mostly from industry. The EPA states that ground-level ozone forms when emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds "cook" in the sun. Power plants, vehicle exhaust, industry, chemical solvents and gasoline vapors are all to blame.
Most at risk developing health problems associated with ozone pollution are people with asthma and lung diseases or children and those who spend lots of time outdoors in the summer when ozone levels tend to be at their highest.
The simple act of filling up a car with gasoline on a hot summer day can add to ozone levels with emissions that escape at the pump while refueling, which is why Heying recommends that people fill up at night on hot days. Cars, gasoline and diesel fuel and even lawnmowers are all getting cleaner, she added. Heying said mowing your lawn late in the day in summer or on cooler days will also help keep ozone levels low.
School districts in Utah have been tweaking buses to run cleaner while some schools have or will be implementing no-idling rules while buses pick up and drop off students. State DEQ officials also point out that Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has made it one of his top priorities to improve air quality while at the same time some state office buildings now have more energy-efficient policies.
"All of these things are happening," she said. "We should see a reduction in pollution from these things."
Whether certain counties in Utah will come into compliance by 2010 based on efforts already underway to reduce ozone is "crystal-balling it," Heying said. She added there is no cost estimate yet on how the new standard may impact industrial contributors to ozone.The EPA estimates it will collectively cost states between $7.6 billion and $8.5 billion to implement plans that will get counties in compliance with the new standard. The savings, however, in health care costs as a result of cleaner air could be as high as $19 billion, the EPA estimates. The EPA based changing the ozone standard on over 1,700 peer-reviewed scientific studies, five public hearings and about 90,000 written comments.