Mayor seeks break on air quality

04/16/2011 12:00 AM

04/16/2011 12:08 AM

Mayor Carl Brewer wants state and federal officials to cut Wichita a break on its poor air quality readings on April 6 because the haze stemmed from range burning in the Flint Hills.

"We recognize the absolute necessity for the range burning in the Flint Hills," Brewer said in a news release Friday. "However, Wichita and our surrounding area should not be penalized for the short-term air quality problems that result from that event."

If Brewer is successful, environmental officials would ignore the April 6 air quality readings, which exceeded federal standards for the first time this year.

The city can exceed federal standards three days a year, but the fourth day — paired with data from the past two years — determines whether it is in violation.

Kay Johnson, manager of the city's office of environmental initiatives, said it is frustrating that the city has been denied exceptions in recent years.

"If it's attributable to the Flint Hills, we're not in control of that and don't have any way to deal with it," she said.

Wichita has come close to violating national air quality standards for years.

If the city surpasses national standards, it would likely have to come up with plans to reduce air pollution that could be costly to residents and businesses.

City officials say that if federal officials designated Wichita as a non-attainment area, it could cost the community $10 million a year.

The city has several air quality monitoring stations, which collect data the city sends to Topeka.

To violate current federal standards, the 3-year average of the fourth-highest daily maximum 8-hour average of ozone concentrations must exceed 0.075 parts per million.

But the EPA is expected to further clamp down this summer by making the standard somewhere between 0.06 and 0.07 parts per million.

Wichita exceeded the 0.075 standard for the first time April 6 with readings of 0.082 just south of Wichita and 0.079 inside the city.

That would give the city two more days to exceed the standard. If it crosses the line a fourth time, Wichita could face strict new air quality rules.

And it may have surpassed the standard a second time Wednesday when air quality again edged close to exceeding standards.

But it probably won't be clear whether that was a violation until data is calculated and validated by the state next week, Johnson said.

"We know one of them went over," she said. "But we don't know how many more will go over this year. You can say we're at risk if we lose one of our chances."

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