Ozone levels worry Wichita city officials

Ozone levels worry Wichita city officials

14 April 2009

published by www.kansas.com

USA — The city of Wichita will not issue burn permits and is asking residents to wait until evening to mow their lawns and gas up their cars to reduce air pollution.

Kay Johnson, director of environmental services for the city, said Monday that ozone levels on Saturday came close to exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality standard for ozone.

The EPA allows cities to exceed ozone standards three times a year and calculates a three-year average to determine whether a city is out of compliance with the Clean Air Act.

Wichita exceeded the level, 0.075 parts per million, on Wednesday in part due to the number of pastures being burned off. On Saturday, the recorded level was 0.07425, Johnson said.

The “ozone season” stretches from April 1 to Oct. 31. Wichita typically sees its highest readings in July and August, when the summer sun heats exhaust from vehicles and industry to form smog.

The recent problems have been caused largely by controlled burns as ranchers set fire to pastures. The Wichita Fire Department said it will not issue any more burn permits until environmental services says it is safe to do so.

Wichita Fire Marshal Ed Bricknell said the department also is revoking the nine outstanding burn permits that the city had already issued.

The city also is asking people to fill up their fuel tanks after 6 p.m. and mow only in the evening.

“We would prefer that if there’s going to be combustion engines used, it would be after 6 p.m.,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that the conditions create a health hazard for many people, especially those with diminished lung capacities.

In addition to the health factors, violating the Clean Air Act could lead to sanctions that could affect the economy, she said.

Transportation projects would require studies proving they wouldn’t add to the pollution. Funds spent on those studies would be deducted from available road construction money.

Projects would take longer to finish. And projects paid with local money would have to meet the same requirements.

Expansion of existing businesses would be limited, and new businesses would have to show they wouldn’t add to the pollution.

Motorists could face mandatory annual vehicle emissions tests, and lawn maintenance equipment could face idling regulations and other restrictions.

Johnson said motorists could also be faced with having to use a “lower ozone-emitting fuel.”

“That usually means a few more cents at the pump for each gallon because that fuel is expensive to make,” she said.

In the meantime, Johnson said that Wichita officials are working with other agencies, including those in Oklahoma, to inquire about burning and other air quality matters.

“We understand that the farmers and the agricultural industry need to have controlled burns,” she said. “But we need to do it in a manner that is not impacting our health.”

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