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Georgia making progress on reducing air pollution, EPA advises Gov. Deal

David Pendered
Atlanta smog, 2017

By David Pendered

Georgia is making headway with its efforts to reduce air pollution. Seven counties in metro Atlanta are the only ones that don’t meet federal air quality standards for ozone and they are expected to come into compliance without additional controls, according to a statement released Wednesday by state environmental officials.

Atlanta smog, 2017

Georgia’s efforts to improve air quality has resulted in a reduction in the number of counties that qualify as non-attainment areas from 15 counties to seven counties. File/Credit: weathernationtv.com

The seven counties listed as non-attainment areas are: Bartow, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Henry counties.

The number of non-attainment areas is down from 20 counties in 1997 and from 15 counties in 2008, according to the statement.

The 20 counties that in 1997 were non-attainment areas were: Barrow, Bartow, Carroll, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Hall, Henry, Newton, Paulding, Rockdale, Spalding, and Walton counties.

The 15 counties that in 2008 were non-attainment areas were: Bartow, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Newton, Paulding, and Rockdale.

The number has declined even while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has tightened air quality standards. The current ozone stand is 70 parts per billion, down from 75 ppb in 2008 and 84 ppb in 1997, according to the statement.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt notified the state in a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal that the agency had completed the compliance review for the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, according to the statement.

Richard Dunn

Richard Dunn

The improvements are the result of efforts across all sources of ozone pollution, said Richard Dunn, who directs the Environment Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

“Continued improvements in metro Atlanta air quality are the result of actions from business, industry and citizens,” Dunn said. “Investments in new pollution controls, availability of cleaner engine technologies, as well as the state’s vehicle emissions program, have been effective in achieving cleaner air.”

Ozone is a product of tailpipe exhaust, which reacts with sunshine. Ozone output has declined considerably since the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970, according to the EPA. The EPA reports that:

  • “New passenger vehicles are 98 to 99 percent cleaner for most tailpipe pollutants compared to the 1960s.
  • “Fuels are much cleaner – lead has been eliminated, and sulfur levels are more than 90 percent lower than they were prior to regulation.
  • “U.S. cities have much improved air quality, despite ever increasing population and increasing vehicle miles traveled.
  • “Standards have sparked technology innovation from industry.”

The Clean Air Act requires that the EPA reviews the health standards for certain pollutants every five years. The review process involves a group of independent advisors to make recommendations based on the latest health information, the state EPD reported in 2016.

The committee reviewed the health information and advised the EPA that the previous standard of 75 ppb did not fully protect the public health. The committee recommended a tighter standard in the range of 60 ppb and 70 ppb. The committee said a standard in that range would provide an “adequate margin of safety” and left the policy decision to the EPA administrator.

The EPA tightened the ozone standard to 70 ppb on Oct. 1, 2015. As a result, smog alerts are activated by a lower level of pollution than they were previously.

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David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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