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Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Air needn't be dangerous to be bad


Your voice: Karen Arnett

Kendra Schroer missed the point in her "Your voice" column "Our dirty air spews mostly from cars" (April 8) about Title X, the "now-defunct" city air quality ordinance. True enough, Cincinnati does not need an air law that simply duplicates existing state and federal air laws, but this is not what Title X is about. The crux of Title X is to protect the "comfortable enjoyment of life and property," a definition of nuisance not included in the federal or state laws. Ask any of the Cincinnatians who registered complaints last year about various industrial fumes in their air.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency requires crisis conditions, illness or body counts to prove nuisance, as when last year its contract agency, the Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services, charged AK Steel with nuisance after nearly lethal levels of carbon monoxide flooded a nearby neighborhood. Title X will deliver us from all air pollution. It is just one tool.

Just a few examples, taken from Hamilton County's complaint database, showing why we need Title X back:

• An entire congregation in Woodlawn repeatedly smelled chemical fumes inside a church. A nearby flavoring company dumped chemicals into the sewer, and the gases came up through drains.

• An urban pioneer considers moving after renovating a dilapidated factory building in Camp Washington. The lovely new studio and office space, an asset to urban revitalization, receives regular doses of choking smoke from a nearby steel treatment plant.

• Parents and teachers at the Winton Place Waldorf School have for years complained of overwhelming foul odors from a nearby chemical plant.

• Cincinnatians in various neighborhoods smell solvent and paint fumes in their homes from nearby auto repair and paint shops; the local air agency tells them the shops were exempt from all air regulations because emissions did not meet a threshold for regulatory jurisdiction.

These people, their neighborhoods and our city suffer degraded quality of life, and Ohio EPA offers no relief. Polluted air is neither a fact of life nor a prerequisite to a healthy economy. Local investments in cleaner air will not cause factories to shut down. Industry prophesied financial ruin in 1970 when the Clean Air Act was made law, yet now trumpets the pollution reductions made under the law's mandate as if it were their own initiative. Schroer's clients will cheer in years to come when Cincinnati is perceived as a healthy place to work and to live.

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Karen Arnett is project coordinator for the Cincinnati-based Environmental Community Organization.

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