Ohio environmental officials are trying to balance better health against impacts to economic development. They're concerned the state won't be able to meet new federal standards for ozone and fine particles without spending millions of dollars and putting a chill on new investments in the region. ideastream's Karen Schaefer reports.
High levels of ozone on hot summer days make it harder to breathe, even for people with healthy lungs. But doctors say fine particles - the main component of smog - are even more dangerous. Dr. Kathleen Fagan is an occupational health physician with University Hospitals. She says that fine particles of unburned hydrocarbons emitted by tailpipes and smokestacks affect an even broader group of people.
Kathleen Fagan: The more particle pollution you have, the more people get sick and die. We know that it increases emergency room visits and hospital visits for asthma, for lung disease. But how does it increase heart attacks and cardiac arrhythmia - heart rhythms - we're not sure about that.
New research shows fine particle pollution can also affect a developing fetus, causing premature births, under-developed lungs, or even birth defects. So Dr. Fagan is glad the U.S. EPA has introduced new standards to reduce both ozone and fine particles. But state regulators are finding real challenges in meeting the new rules. Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Joe Koncelik recently told a group of planners in Cleveland he's concerned about more than impacts to health.
Joe Koncelik: Meeting the ozone standard has tremendous implications for the economy in Northeast Ohio.
Koncelik cites an independent study that shows meeting ozone standards by the 2010 deadline set by the federal government could cost Northeast Ohio businesses nearly a billion dollars in new pollution controls and could mean the loss of more than 12,000 jobs.
But he's even more concerned about the potential chill on economic development.
Joe Koncelik: Are areas like Northeast Ohio going to be able to attract new jobs if companies look at ozone... and say, oh my gosh, that's just too much, I'd rather go someplace else where I don't have to jump over all those hurdles?
Koncelik says because Northeast Ohio is already classed as 'moderately out of attainment' with the new standards, many large businesses will have to ask neighbors to reduce their pollution before they can build new plants here. One solution is to extend the deadline. But the federal government says the only way to do that is to be classed as being in 'serious' non-attainment, which would put Ohio at an ever greater economic disadvantage. Then even small businesses would have to seek pollution offsets.
All this is vexing to Chris Varley, vice president of the Northeast Ohio high-tech business advocate Nortech.
Chris Varley: These are very delicate political issues and people are trying to figure out how does the business community approach the regulatory and government agencies that have jurisdiction to propose solutions that will have real impact - and not ones that just make great sound bites.
Varley believes one solution is to cooperate with other states in the region to reduce air pollution drifting into Ohio. While sources in Ohio - especially Northeast Ohio - account for more than half of ozone pollution, much of the rest comes from neighboring states. Robert McCann, press secretary for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, says his state has come a long way to resolving its own air pollution issues, but he can sympathize with Ohio's difficulties.
Robert McCann: We have heard discussions not only in Ohio but in other states in this region that they have the same concerns you do, that there simply isn't an aggressive enough federal approach that will allow the states to get into the attainment that the federal government wants them to.
It's not clear why Ohio has more air pollution problems than other Midwest states. Unlike ozone, particle pollution tends to stay in the area it's released, so it may be that Ohio just has more local sources. Ohio still has a year to come up with a plan to reduce ozone and another year to submit a fine particles reduction plan. Many of the same controls will help with both kinds of pollution.
In the meantime, the Ohio EPA is working with local planners to go over pollution sources with a fine-toothed comb. They're hoping a more detailed analysis will show that Ohio can meet the new standards and still grow its economy. Karen Schaefer, 90.3.