Wichita's smog violations could lead to EPA rules

07/27/2012 5:00 AM

07/28/2012 1:00 PM

A byproduct of the ongoing heat wave, increased smog, may ultimately bring more and longer-lasting annoyance than the heat itself.

The heat wave will eventually break, but Wichita’s smog reports probably already have been damaged to the extent of triggering some mandatory — and potentially costly and inconvenient — pollution controls like those in other big cities.

Wichita has exceeded its ceiling for the pollutant ozone at least seven times this year, including Thursday and almost undoubtedly Friday.

“Continued violations of the ozone standards established by the Environmental Protection Agency in the Wichita area could result in costly federal regulations that could harm the local economy,” the city said in a warning issued Friday.

Kay Johnson, the city’s environmental initiatives manager, said Wichita will almost certainly fail to meet the ozone standard for the year. But she said it’s still important to try to cut back pollution because the scope of any EPA actions would most likely be based on the number and severity of smog incidents.

The city government is pleading with the public to try to voluntarily cut pollution. Officials have been constantly issuing lists of smog-reduction tips such as cutting back on driving, mowing lawns and filling fuel tanks late in the day when the sunlight isn’t as intense, and avoiding use of gas-powered trimmers and leaf blowers.

Johnson said she thinks residents are getting the message.

“I think people are actually trying to cooperate,” she said. “The problem is the weather is not cooperating.”

On Thursday, the eight-hour average ozone level was .078 parts per million in Wichita, .067 in Peck, south of the city, and .077 in Sedgwick, north of Wichita.

The allowable level is .075.

The pollutant is formed when a combination of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds — components of gasoline and industrial emissions — mix in the atmosphere and are baked by strong sunlight.

Ozone can cause symptoms such as sore throats, coughing and shortness of breath, with children and the elderly most at risk. The pollutant can also aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions.

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