April 12, 2013

Wichita launches plan to prevent air pollution problems

City officials rolled out a two-pronged plan Friday to attack expected summertime air pollution problems.

City officials rolled out a two-pronged plan Friday to attack expected summertime air pollution problems.

Officials will ask the public to reduce traveling and other forms of emissions if ozone levels — created when heat and sunlight bake the emissions from vehicles, mowers and commercial producers — exceed Environmental Protection Agency standards this summer, said Tonya Bronleewe, an air quality specialist with the city.

In addition, the city has a plan to change operations daily if ozone levels spike, Bronleewe said.

Failure to comply with EPA standards could cost the city and Wichitans, she said: High ozone levels can cause breathing problems for children or elderly people with any kind of lung problems.

“If we’re over the ozone limits we run the risk of more regulation from the federal government,” she said. “Gas prices could go up, businesses and their regulations could be affected and highway and road funding could be jeopardized.”

Citizens will be asked to consider carpooling to work, working from home, postponing errands, mowing later in the evening and fueling vehicles in the early morning or late evening hours, Bronleewe said.

“Do anything you can do to save electricity,” she said. “Turning up your thermostat to 78, unplugging any appliances you don’t use, things like that.”

City officials plan to rework operations in the event of a daily ozone alert, Bronleewe said, including delaying fueling, teleconferencing meetings, carpooling, delaying mowing or painting and using alternative work schedules.

The city’s plan comes on the heels of a rough air pollution summer in 2012, marked by several days when the city exceeded EPA ozone level standards.

The city has frequently been on the brink of or over federal ozone standards for pollution. For example, last summer wildfires, controlled grassland burns and a heat wave combined to push the levels up. The Environmental Protection Agency allows up to 75 parts of ozone per billion parts of air on average over eight hours.

Wichita escaped problems with the EPA and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment last summer, Bronleewe said.

Federal officials look at a three-year average of ozone level readings, taking the fourth highest readings daily to create a rolling average that is the key figure.

“Last year, there were more than three (days the city’s ozone levels exceeded federal standards), but the EPA and KDHE took into account our extreme weather conditions and the fact that we had some blow-in ozone from other areas, like burning in the Flint Hills,” she said. “We can’t count on that happening every year.”

Ozone season runs from April 1 to Oct. 31. For more information on the city plan, see the air quality page on the city’s website.

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