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EPA PROPOSES TO RECLASSIFY CENTRAL VALLEY AIR FROM SERIOUS TO SEVERE

Release Date: 6/12/2000
Contact Information: Lisa Fasano, U.S. EPA, 415-744-1587

     SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY FAILS TO MEET FEDERAL AIR QUALITY STANDARDS
                               
     SAN FRANCISCO -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced that the San Joaquin Valley failed to meet air pollution standards for ozone air pollution and that the region's ozone rating is being proposed for reclassification from "serious" to "severe."

     According to the EPA, air quality data from 1997 through 1999 indicates the San Joaquin Valley experienced 80 days of unhealthy levels of ozone air pollution. The reclassification does not signify, however, that ozone air quality is worsening in the San Joaquin Valley.  In fact, ozone levels have decreased slightly over the past ten years and particulate levels have been improving despite the continuing rapid growth in the Valley.

     "The San Joaquin Valley has made great progress in cleaning up its air.  It's just not clean enough to be consistently safe to breathe," said Felicia Marcus, EPA's Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest.  "Today's action will pick up the pace to cleaner, safer, air for the roughly three million people now living in the Valley."

     If the EPA's action is finalized, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District would be required to submit a new air quality plan within 18 months, and that plan would have to assure attainment of the federal standards by the end of 2005.  The severe classification would also initiate new permitting and pollution control measure requirements.

     In addition to the reclassification, the EPA is proposing to find that the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District failed to implement a number of commitments in its current federally approved attainment plan.

     The EPA is seeking public comment on the proposal.  The public comment period will run for 30 days following publication in the Federal Register, which should occur within the next two weeks.

     Exposure to ozone, even at relatively low levels, can reduce lung function, and cause chest pain and coughing.  Repeated exposure can make people -- especially children, the elderly and those with respiratory diseases such as asthma -- more susceptible to respiratory diseases.  Ozone is formed through the photochemical reaction of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, which can come from cars, trucks and buses, farm equipment, power plants, refineries, solvents, and consumer products.

     The San Joaquin Valley ozone non-attainment area includes eight counties: San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern.  Air pollution from the area contributes to air quality problems in several downwind areas, including the north and central coast, the Mojave Desert, and the mountain counties.
                                   
     Additional information on this action will be available today on the EPA Region 9 Web site at http://www.epa.gov/region09.

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