Rural Ozone: Crops and Country Lungs
Revised EPA standards show 45 rural counties with health-hazardous levels of ozone. And environmental experts say crops and forests are at even greater risk than people.
‘Gimme that countryside…’
Rural wannabe O.W. Douglas
played by Eddie Albert
“Fresh air!” shouted Oliver Wendell Douglas, the stuffed shirt who bullied his diamond-dripping wife to leave New York City for “farm living” in television’s Green Acres.
As many rural residents can attest, Mr. Douglas should emigrate with caution. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s new standards on air quality, 43 rural counties — from Gila, Arizona, to Litchfield, Connecticut — showed excessive levels of ozone. (See full list below.) Polluted country air poses hazards to people, animals, and even crops.
Ozone (O3) is produced when sunlight interacts with emissions from cars and trucks, factories, and power-plants. It causes asthma, damages the lungs of animals (human and otherwise), and stunts the growth of plants.
Last week the EPA revised its air quality standards from 0.08 ozone parts per million to 0.075 ppm. EPA advisors and the American Lung Association had recommended an even more stringent standard of 0.06 – 0.07 ppm. Dr. John M. Balbus, health scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, was one of many who criticized the agency’s weaker change. “The EPA’s own risk estimates show that between 75 and 70, there will be hundreds more deaths and thousands more visits to emergency rooms, and hundreds of thousands of more lost school days,” Balbus told the New York Times.
On the other hand, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma complained that the new ozone regulations were too harsh and could damage his state’s economy; counties in noncompliance might risk losing federal highway money or scare off potential business investors.
“I am proud of the tremendous progress Oklahoma has made in cleaning up its air. Currently, not a single county in Oklahoma is in violation of the ozone standards,” Sen. Inhofe said. But under the 0.075 standard, nine of Oklahoma counties fail to meet the ozone requirements. Four of them are rural.
Counties in pink exceeded the EPA’s new ozone standards: 0.075 parts per million
Source: Environmental Protection Agency
In Indiana, too, some business leaders objected to EPA’s revision. From the Indianapolis Star: “It’s too early to know the new standard’s impact on the state’s industries and future economic development, said Patrick Bennett, the Indiana Manufacturers Association’s vice president of environment, energy and infrastructure. But he said the tougher standard could drive manufacturers toward rural areas and away from urban areas that don’t meet the new health-based federal rule. ‘They’ll shift production to an area where attainment is not an issue — either in areas in Indiana that are in attainment or another state where attainment is not an issue,’ Bennett said.”
But attainment is “an issue” everywhere. Rural communities aren’t exempt from the standards. Rural residents aren’t immune from asthma; they want clean air as much as anyone.
Leaves of potato plant damaged by ozone exposure
Photo: Gerald Holmes, via Tree Wizard
Maybe more so — since ozone appears to be an ever greater hazard for plants than for people. According to a recent study at MIT, if ozone levels continue rising at the current rate, “by 2100 the global value of crop production will fall by 10 to 12 percent.”
A less publicized dimension of the latest EPA decision was its modification of secondary ozone standards — those that impact “public welfare,” that is to say, the environment. EPA advisors had put forth a new form of ozone measurement (W126) “designed specifically to protect sensitive plants from damage caused by repeated ozone exposure throughout the growing season.” The Washington Post reported Friday that the Bush administration overruled this recommendation at the last minute, forcing EPA to revert to less stringent monitoring of ozone levels as they affect wildlife, parks, and cropland.
Watch out, Oliver Wendell Douglas!
Non-metro counties clearly can be ozone-hazardous, too. Some, like Door County, Wisconsin — a popular destination for summer tourists — are located downwind of power plants in other states and even across national borders. Others, like Calaveras County, California, are trapped geographically, so that emissions from gas and diesel engines stagnate. In Nevada County, California, periodic wildfires have created high levels of ozone. There’s also evidence that interstate highway traffic, which tends to increase in rural regions during the ozone-prone summer months, may be a factor. To check on the air quality and pollution sources in your county, insert your zip code in this pollution Scorecard, currently set with the data for Benzie County, Michigan.
It’s one of the 45 non-metro counties that, based on 2004-2006 monitors, failed to meet the new standard of 0.075 parts per million. Here’s the full list:
Baldwin County, Alabama 78
Gila County, Arizona 80
Amador County, California 84
Calaveras County, CA 93
Inyo County, CA 82
Mariposa County, CA 86
Nevada County, CA 96
Tehama County, CA 83
Tuolumne County, CA 78
Litchfield County, Connecticut 87
Sussex County, Deleware 82
Perry County, Indiana 81
St. James Parish, Louisiana 76
Hancock County, Maine 81
Kent County, Maryland 81
Dukes County, Massachusetts 82
Allegan County, Michigan 88
Benzie County, MI 80
Lenawee County, MI 76
Mason County, MI 77
Schoolcraft County, MI 78
Ste. Genevieve County, Missouri 77
Chautauqua County, New York 86
Essex County, NY 76
Graham County, North Carolina 78
Granville County, NC 80
Lincoln County, NC 79
Rowan County, NC 85
Ashtabula County, Ohio 86
Clinton County, OH 80
Knox County, OH 76
Cherokee County, Oklahoma 76
Kay County, OK 79
Mayes County, OK 79
Ottawa County, OK 78
Photo: Allegheney Energy
Clearfield County, Pennsylvania 77
Greene County, PA 79
Tioga County, PA 77
Meigs County, Tennessee 79
Sevier County, TN 80
Harrison County, Texas 79
Hood County, TX 84
Madison County, Virginia 77
Door County, Wisconsin 86
Manitowoc County, WI 82
Note: The EPA only monitored only about 20% of US counties for ozone levels (639 counties — urban and rural combined — during this period). Of those, 398 violated the new 0.075 standard.