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Spokane's Air Quality Gets Serious

Release Date: 12/5/1997
Contact Information: Misha Vakoc
(206) 553-8578 or 1-800-424-4372

December 5, 1997 - - - - - - - - 97-74

For Immediate Release

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced, as required under the Federal Clean Air Act, that the Agency will reclassify the Spokane’s carbon monoxide air pollution status from “moderate” to “serious.” The action will give local carbon monoxide (CO) pollution control programs already in place additional time to reduce emissions. The reclassification, to be finalized in February 1998, will establish a new deadline of December 31, 2000, for Spokane to meet the national CO standard.

“The Spokane community has been stepping up to the challenge and has put into place most of the necessary air pollution control measures to reduce CO emissions,” says Anita Frankel, Director of EPA’s Office of Air Quality in Seattle. “We’re here to acknowledge Spokane’s commitment to clean air. Extending the deadline will give the community more time to continue to reduce emissions. ”

Carbon monoxide levels in Spokane improved significantly over the last ten years--levels measured above the national 8-hour average CO standard of 9 parts per million (ppm) more than 87 times in 1987, but only four times in 1995. An ever-increasing number of cars on the road, combined with local geography and climate which tends to trap pollution at ground level during wintertime stagnant air inversions, contributes to continuing exceedances of the national CO health standard. More than 50% of the CO in Spokane comes from automobile exhaust.

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology), Spokane County Air Pollution Authority (SCAPCA) and other local agencies continue to work to improve Spokane’s air quality. Programs already in place to control CO from cars include the vehicle Emission Check program and the use of oxygenated gasoline during the winter months. Every year, newer, cleaner cars on the road replace older, dirtier-exhaust vehicles. Voluntary car pooling and rideshare programs help reduce single occupant vehicle trips, leading to lower emissions of CO.

SCAPCA and Spokane Regional Transportation Council (SRTC) have worked closely with local citizens to develop a list of possible additional control measures to achieve further emission reductions. For example, “Air Watch,” a recently announced public education program sponsored by SCAPCA, SRTC and the Spokane Transit Authority, asks people to carpool, bus, walk or bicycle on days when CO is predicted to be elevated. The Spokane Transit Authority offers free bus rides to local residents on days when stagnant air inversions are predicted.

The Clean Air Act allows just one monitored exceedance of the CO standard per year. Two consecutive years of “clean” air monitoring data are necessary in order for an area to meet the national 8-hour average CO standard of 9 ppm. Spokane’s air quality data show that carbon monoxide levels exceeded the national standard four times in 1995 and twice in 1996.

As a “moderate” nonattainment area, Spokane’s original deadline to meet the CO standard was December 31, 1995. EPA is required to reclassify a ”moderate” area to “serious” if that deadline was missed. As a result of reclassification, state and local planning agencies must consider whether additional control measures are needed to reduce emissions.

“There have been no exceedances of the standard yet in 1997. We are optimistic, based upon Spokane’s past commitment to air quality, that the area will attain the standard prior to the year 2000,” says Ms. Frankel.

Carbon monoxide, an odorless and highly toxic gas, is a by-product of incomplete burning, and is easily absorbed into the human blood stream. Elevated levels can cause headaches, dizziness and nausea. The health threat from CO is most serious for the elderly, and those who suffer from cardiovascular disease.

Based upon the determination that Spokane missed the original 1995 deadline to meet the standard, EPA proposed to reclassify the area to “serious’ in July 1996. Comments received from the City of Spokane, the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce and members of the business community opposed the proposal. The American Lung Association, a number of private citizens and a local environmental group supported the proposal.

As a result of concern expressed by the City of Spokane about air quality data recorded at a CO monitor located at 3rd and Washington Street, EPA, and the local planning agencies conducted an extensive technical review of the monitor’s location and operation.. The conclusions from the various analyses have convinced EPA that the data recorded at 3rd and Washington are valid, and should therefore be considered in determining whether Spokane is meeting the air quality standards.
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