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Commissioners try to clear the air

Clearing the air was the subject of discussion at the St. Francois County Commission Tuesday. Commissioners have approved a voluntary clean air resolution as a proactive response to continued indications that environmental officials may try to pull the county into St. Louis’ non-attainment designation.

The county has narrowly escaped the designation twice before, which can come with restrictions on gasoline sales and extra permitting requirements for new industry.

Associate Commissioner Bret Burgess said the county wants to be proactive about clean air issues, in hopes it will escape any future non-attainment designation by the EPA.

“This is a completely voluntary effort,” Burgess said. “We’re going to be limiting all carbon monoxide and monitoring our vehicle use to minimize it to what’s most important.”

Burgess said the county is considering a plan that would keep some of its vehicles in the northern part of the county rather than having them driven back to the barn in Farmington each day.

Mowing is going to be relegated to the coolest part of the day to help minimize carbon monoxide emissions.

As technology improves and becomes more affordable, that too may be considered, Burgess added. But only if it is feasible for the county’s budget.

St. Francois County was almost pulled into the St. Louis non-attainment region in 2008 when a monitor near the county line  recorded eight-hour averages above that designated as safe for human and environmental health.

EPA has lowered its allowable ozone levels to 75 ppb and the monitor was averaging 79 ppb.

The monitor is actually located in Ste. Genevieve, but DNR officials say it is close enough to St. Francois County to be representative of air quality in both counties.

Ground-level ozone is a lung irritant and can contribute to asthma.

The amount of ground-level ozone varies depending on meteorological and other conditions. This makes it difficult to pinpoint a naturally occurring background level of the substance. Oak and pine trees also release compounds that contribute to ozone production naturally.

On cloudy days, ground-level ozone levels are naturally lower, in the 10 to 30 ppb range. On a sunny day, naturally occurring ozone in a forest might range from 64 to 72 ppb.

When an air quality monitor is above the 8-hour limit on its fourth highest reading, the environmental agencies begin looking at industrial sources to see if there is a man-made component to the violation, as well as to determine the likely sources of the emissions.

DNR officials have said the county’s ozone problems do not originate from industries in St. Francois County. It’s all heading downwind from St. Louis.

“Your air is polluted by definition,” said Jeff Bennett, with DNR, last year. “But not as bad as your neighbors to the north. They are causing you to have a lower air quality.”

That led county officials to question DNR about including the county in non-attainment.

“We do not have a pollution problem,” said then Presiding Commissioner Jim Henson. “Nor are we contributing to anyone else’s.”

The designation could have detrimental effects on businesses in the county, Burgess said.

Non-attainment can lead to restrictions on the types of gasoline that may be sold as well as auto emission inspections and other such things to control man-made emissions.

DNR officials would not say what restrictions the county would face if pulled into non-attainment with St. Louis. They said then it was premature to discuss that, but added that they doubted it would include restricting gasoline emissions or requiring vehicle inspections.

While it is uncertain what restrictions would be imposed in the case the county were pulled into St. Louis’ non-attainment region, one restriction is not in doubt. Permitting rules for any new large employers that might locate in the county would be stricter than the rules Holcim faced when they located in Ste. Genevieve.

Renee Jean can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 117 or .

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