Coweta attains air quality standards

by Sarah Fay Campbell

It's official. The metro-Atlanta area — including Coweta — is now officially in "attainment" for the ground level ozone pollution standards set in 1997.

Well, it's almost official. The designation takes effect Jan. 2.

The area has met the standard since 2008, and Georgia asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in spring of 2012 to declare the region in attainment for the 1997 standard. Last February, the EPA announced it was reviewing the issue.

On Monday, the EPA announced it is taking final action to approve the state's request.

Though it’s a major milestone, the practical implications are minimal. You’ll still have to get vehicle emissions tests. And federally-funded road projects will still have to be modeled for air quality impacts.

The decision is based on air-quality monitoring data for 2008, 2009 and 2010. The 20-county area has continued to meet the standard since then.

The counties include Coweta, Barrow, Bartow, Carroll, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Hall, Henry, Newton, Paulding, Rockdale, Spalding and Walton.

The area was classified as "non-attainment" in the 1990s. The region achieved attainment status for a while, before falling back into non-attainment in 2004.

Ground level ozone is created by chemical reactions between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight. Motor vehicle emissions contribute to ground level ozone, as do emissions from industrial facilities and electrical utilities, as well as gasoline vapors and chemical solvents.

Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion, according to the EPA. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Ground level ozone also can reduce lung function and inflame the linings of the lungs. Repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissue.

“This is a great accomplishment for the Atlanta area, a product of strong collaboration among government, the business community, environmental organizations and ordinary citizens," said Acting EPA Regional Administrator Stan Meiburg. "Together with our partners at the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, we look forward to continued progress in improving Atlanta's air quality."

“All of metropolitan Atlanta can be proud of this major accomplishment," said Judson Turner, director of the Georgia EPD. "Everyone should be applauded, from citizens who keep their vehicles in good running condition to industries and power plants that have invested in improved emission controls. It has taken many years, but the results are cleaner air and a healthier place to live and work.”

Though the region has been meeting the 1997 standard, it hasn't yet met the stricter standards implemented in 2008. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division is working with EPA to help the region meet the '08 standard by December of 2015.

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