County discusses air quality, burn bans

Air pollution is something most people think about being a problem in heavily congested areas such as Los Angeles and New York, not in Kansas, where you can see for miles and miles.

But Sedgwick County commissioners spent part of their morning Tuesday talking about ozone levels and burn bans.

Kay Johnson, environmental initiatives manager for Wichita, pitched a voluntary ban on burning items such as limbs, leaves and construction debris in April. That month is key because that's when grasslands are burned in the Flint Hills and when ozone levels spike out of compliance with EPA regulations.

The ban would not apply to essential agriculture burning, such as pasture management.

State legislators are working on a law that would mandate restrictions on other types of burning in April in 16 counties.

Tougher EPA standards have been delayed several times.

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn said "the reason the regulations keep being pushed back is the whole country would be falling out of attainment and that is a political non-starter."

"This is ridiculous," said Commissioner Richard Ranzau, alluding to regulations about air pollution caused by actions such as crop burning. "I think the source of the problem comes from the federal government."

He said such a burn wouldn't have much effect, and he said if people don't burn in April, they'll burn later.

"The same amount will be burned; it will just be in a different month," he said after the meeting.

Johnson said officials have "worked really hard with the farmers and ranchers, and they don't believe they should be at this party to begin with."

Commissioner Dave Unruh, who was not at the meeting, said later that a voluntary ban in Sedgwick County would apply to materials such as construction debris, leaves and cuttings.

"That amount of burning is not significant in its volume," Unruh said. "I'm having a hard time telling how much it will affect our air quality, either way."

Unruh said he thinks a discussion needs to take place about how air quality affects residents' health.

"We need to get our public health department involved in getting us some data about how much of a critical health issue this is," Unruh said.