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PLASKON: Ozone is the odorless gas that is good in the stratosphere - protecting people from ultraviolet light. But when various pollutants near the ground are hit by sunlight, they combine to make ozone and according to Jeff Quinn of the American Lung Association it's not good for people's lungs.
QUINN: It is kind of like getting sunburned. The cells that are damaged are constantly peeling and renewing themselves and over time that can cause long-term damage especially in children.
PLASKON: In the early 90's the American Lung Association said the EPA should raise it's standards for counties to test the level of ozone from a one-hour period to an 8 hour period. The EPA studied the idea, came to the same conclusion in 1997 and changed the law in 1997. But industry challenges led to the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2001 to let the EPA go forward with a 3-year process to determine which counties would be violating ozone levels under the 8-hour standard. John Koswan, Clark County Air Quality Manager knows the ozone levels the county reported last year.
KOSWAN: We recorded a value at a single site that is barely over the new 8 hour standard.
PLASKON: So, he says this week Las Vegas will join a list of some 300 other counties that also aren't meeting air quality standards for Ozone. The new standard will classify air breathed by half the nation's population as dirty. EPA officials like Deborah Jordan, EPA Southwest Air Division Director are traveling to those cities this week talking about the new standards.
JORDAN: Areas like the Phoenix area and Las Vegas too that have pretty good air quality but still have a ways to go toward really clean are going to see air improvements over the next 5-10 years and that is a really good thing for public health.
PLASKON: She says it will be a challenge to reduce ground-level ozone but it is the most significant clean air action the EPA has taken in a decade. Las Vegas is no stranger to meeting EPA standards. For instance the valley has struggled to meet standards for pollutants like Carbon Monoxide and PM10 or dust. Koswan of Clark County Air Quality Management explains how the county is successfully dealing with reducing dust in the desert.
KOSWAN: We notify all of the sources of dust that the high winds are coming so that they can take the necessary steps.
PLASKON: But watching for environmental factors that cause pollution doesn't always work.
KOSWAN: Ozone is a complex pollutant. It is not directly emitted by any one source.
PLASKON: Ozone - occurs when pollution from cars and power plants combines with an environmental factor that is virtually always present - sunlight. Koswan says the county is currently spending 2-million dollars on studies to try to figure out how and under what circumstances ozone is produced locally.
KOSWAN: Once we understand its behavior and its formation for our particular location we will be able to create the right control measures for our particular region.
PLASKON: Clark and 500 other counties around the nation that are now violating air quality standards will have three years to come up with a plan for reducing levels of the lung-burning gas. Each county will be classified by the EPA according to the level of their problem and given a deadline to meet the new standards.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR.