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Sunday, May 9, 2004

Look at the real facts on air quality


Your voice: Steve Schulte

As a professional environmental engineer and a participant in the first Earth Day, improving the quality of our environment is one of my life's goals. However, more harm than good will be accomplished until the media takes a more critical look at self-serving reports such as the American Lung Association's clean-air study. After reading the editorial "Create credible clean-air plan" (May 2), the reader comes away with the impression that air quality has worsened in recent years. A little investigation at the Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services' Web site would have found these facts:

• For the period 1980-1990, the number of exceedances of the 1-hour ozone (smog) standard averaged 13 per year, while during the period 1991-2003, this region averaged 3 exceedances per year, a 77 percent reduction.

• Since 1995, the concentration of nitrogen oxides, a precursor for smog, decreased about 33 percent and is well under clean air standard.

• Since 1983, carbon monoxide has decreased 50 percent and is well under clean air standard.

• For soot or particulates, the region has seen a 10 percent decrease in total suspended particulates since 1990, a 33 percent decrease of particulate matter less than 10 microns (PM10) since 1988, and a 15 percent decrease of particulate matter less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) since 1999; in fact, another 15 percent decrease of PM2.5 will bring this region into compliance with this new standard.

• Sulfur dioxide has decreased over 70 percent since 1985.

• All of these pollutants are trending toward further reductions.

Another reality the ALA ignores: If only one of seven smog or 14 particulate monitoring stations in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton, or Warren counties exceeds the standard, the entire region "fails"; a review of the record reveals this is typically the case. Hence, the ALA greatly exaggerates the population "at risk."

And why does the ALA not explain how increases "in asthma, respiratory irritation, and early deaths" are occurring during a time of improving air quality?

Lastly, we must not forget "Mother Nature's" contribution to smog. Typically, according to U.S. EPA reports, 15 percent to 30 percent of the air pollution is contributed by plants, animals, and insects. Ever think about why the Smoky Mountains were called "smoky" by native Americans before Europeans arrived?

For any clean air plan to be worth our support, it must be based upon sound science and real benefits and costs, not just politically correct platitudes causing more waste of scarce resources. As industry and consumers continue to utilize more efficient and cleaner technologies, our air quality will continue to become more healthy; let us pray the politicians and bureaucrats do not get in the way.

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Steve Schulte, P.E., REM, holds degrees in civil/environmental engineering and has worked as an environmental engineer for over 25 years. A native Cincinnatian, he and his family live in White Oak.

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