Government and Sustainability

Air quality remains hot topic despite stricter EPA limits

Grand Rapids area is among worst in the state for ozone levels.

October 23, 2015
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LANSING — Stricter new smog limits by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may improve air quality, but some regions of Michigan have a long way to go to meet it,  according to an air quality advocacy group.

The EPA this month called for ground-level ozone levels of no more than 70 parts per billion, five parts per billion less than the old standard issued in 2008.

The American Lung Association considers it a step in the right direction.

“We support the ozone standard and we are definitely supportive of making sure the new standard gets implemented. Even though we think it could be lower — 60 ppb — moving to the 70 ppb is at least moving in the right direction,” said Ken Fletcher, the advocacy specialist for the American Lung Association in Michigan.

But another air quality advocacy group says there is still a significant need for improvement in some areas.

“Poor air quality remains a problem in areas of the state,” said Rory Neuner, director of the MI Air MI Health Coalition.

MI Air MI Health is a group of about 30 health organizations that assess the health effects of air quality. The group advocates for the development, implementation and enforcement of policies to address air quality.

“Overall we have seen improvement in air quality over the last several decades,” Neuner said. “However, we have had instances where certain regions of the state have experienced a problem with ozone.

“For example, in Kent County, the Grand Rapids region, they had a low grade for the ozone level from the American Lung Association in 2014. They had 20 days during the year when the ozone levels were high enough to be considered unhealthy for anyone in a sensitive population.”

Kent County is a major metropolitan area and more than 600,000 people are in the sensitive population, Neuner said. People who have asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes are all considered a sensitive population.

According to MI Air MI Health, Michigan is one of the worst states when it comes to diseases linked to air quality.

For example, 11.5 percent of adults and 9.2 percent of children have asthma. That’s nearly 25 percent higher than the national average. Michigan also has the sixth-highest percentage of residents living with cardiovascular disease and the 10th-highest death rate from cardiovascular disease. And Michigan’s lung cancer rate of 66.2 per 100,000 residents is worse than the rates of 33 other states.

James Clift, policy director of the Michigan Environmental Council, said his organization is disappointed with the new standard and has the public health data to support a more stringent rule.

There are many monitors statewide, Clift said.

“And this new 70 parts per billion is really kind of right on the cusp. Some monitors are slightly over and some are slightly under. The slightly under ones are because the standards are down, which is (based on) four times’ evaluation in three years.”

The solution for Michigan is to reduce the number of coal-fired power plants, he said.

“Ozone is a combination of nitrite dioxides and hydrocarbons. One way for Michigan to lower its numbers is to reduce the emission of nitrite dioxides,” Clift said. “The solution is to close a few more of our old coal plants. That will help us reduce the emission of nitrite dioxides.

“Manufacturing plants also emit volatile organic compounds, but those are smaller sources and we control many of them,” he said.

A number of coal plants are scheduled to be closed, Clift said. Consumers Energy is going to close seven smaller plants in 2016, and DTE Energy is also going to close plants that are more than 60 years old.

The National Association of Manufacturers said the revised EPA standard will thwart economic development, but Clift said this impact in Michigan will be not that serious.

Clift said underused power plants will close “with no impact on economic development.”

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