October 7, 2005
Bad air returns to KC
I told you so!
Back in May when I started writing for this electronic rag, I said that when KC’s normal summer weather returned, so would some bad air. It came back with a vengeance.
Monitors in MARC’s eight-county ozone maintenance area recorded 24 exceedances of the 85 parts per billion ozone standard on 15 days. Eight of these values were over 90 ppb. As bad as this is, it still doesn’t constitute a violation of the federal ozone standard because of all the fudge factors that the EPA has figured in.
As I explained in an earlier column, EPA counts only the fourth highest value at each monitor and then allows these values to be averaged over three years. Since last summer was unusually cool and there were no exceedances, the three-year average is still below 85 ppb. Thus, there is no official violation — a fact that would mean area authorities would actually have do something.
I also noted that during the original rulemaking, the EPA’s Science Advisory Board said that adverse health effects become significant at 80 ppb, but EPA allows authorities to round down any result up to 84 ppb.
The reality is that Kansas Citians breathed in a lot of unhealthy air this summer. So did the downwinders.
Three monitors downwind of the KC maintenance area showed 6 exceedances on six days. Of particular interest is the new monitor at Trimble in southern Clinton County, which is more than half way to St. Joseph. This monitor recorded 4 exceedances, one as high as 93 ppb. This result fits closely with the results of MARC’s new mathematical ozone model. This model predicts that, on bad days in the year 2010, unhealthy air will extend all the way to Atchison and St. Joseph.
Exceedances were also recorded this summer in Leavenworth (96 ppb) and Lawrence (88 ppb). Thus we can say that KC’s regional ozone plume extends west to Lawrence and at least as far north as St. Joseph. There is no question but that state air quality regulators should install ozone monitors in St. Joseph and Atchison to seek the outer edge of the plume. Both of these cities have some significant sources of pollution that could add to the problem.
Despite the bad numbers for 2005, it’s unlikely that KC will violate the ozone standard until the low, year 2004 numbers flush out of the three-year average. In other words, not until 2007. In the meantime, we’d better hope MARC’s voluntary ozone management program does some good.
Also the people of St. Joseph and Atchison better hope that KCP&L’s new pollution controls at Iatan 1 and Iatan 2 power plants (if built) work as advertised. Their first state-of-the art nitrogen dioxide removal system at their Hawthorne plant didn’t work very well on Wyoming coal, and they had to replace the catalyst. Given the way the “best available control technology” regulation usually works, the Missouri DNR (Department of Natural Resources) will not shut them down if KCP&L exceeds their permit limit. MoDNR will just declare it the “best available.”
Now, I will advise any aspiring Chicken Littles out there how to become an accomplished soothsayer of doom. The law of large numbers says that if you make enough predictions, you will eventually be right. Said another way: If you perform a rain dance every day, it will eventually rain.
The attention span of modern humans is so short that they will forget all the bad predictions. Also I’ve noticed that my friends tend to fall asleep shortly after I open my mouth. So when I point out later that my prediction came true, they politely nod.
Anyway, I told you so!
Craig Volland is president of Spectrum Technologists, an environmental research firm. He is certified as a Qualified Environmental Professional and formerly was a member of Mid America Regional Council’s Air Quality Forum. He is active in the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club.
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