Reno Air Clean Enough to Come Off EPA List

By  | 

For the first time in 30 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to drop Washoe County from the list of places failing to meet national air quality standards for carbon monoxide.

"Washoe County has cleaner air today, in part because of investments in clean vehicles and fuel," said Deborah Jordan, director of the Air Division for the EPA's Pacific Southwest region based in San Francisco.

"Area residents can feel good, knowing that they're breathing cleaner air," she said Friday.

The federal agency designated the Reno-Sparks area as non-attainment for carbon monoxide in 1977. The county hasn't actually exceeded the federal health standard since 1995.

"But in order to change the official designation, it isn't enough just to have clean air. You have to have a maintenance plan to keep it that way," said Jeff Wehling, a legal adviser to EPA's regional office.

"Washoe County has now adopted a plan and we are approving the
strategy the county and state have for maintaining the standard for
the next 10 years," he said Friday.

Steps the county has taken to reduce air pollution include restrictions on wood-burning and adoption of an oxygenated gasoline program that helps cut down on the colorless, odorless gas formed when carbon in fuel is not burned completely.

In addition, the state has implemented a vehicle inspection and maintenance program that includes a smog check and federal regulators have stepped up emissions standards for motor vehicles.

People who breathe high levels of carbon monoxide can develop
vision problems, reduce their ability to work, and have difficulty
performing complex tasks, EPA said. At extremely high levels, the
gas is poisonous and can cause death.

Problems with pollution are compounded in higher elevation places like Reno due to a weather phenomenon known as an inversion, which occurs when warmer air above traps colder air in valleys - and pollutants with it - especially in the winter.

Andy Goodrich, director of the Washoe County Health Department's
Air Quality Management Division, said they first submitted a
maintenance plan in mid-2005 and had been negotiating with EPA on
"a few technicalities" since then.

"But now it is all complete. It shows our air is in fact clean," he said Friday.

The county's failure to address the problems would have subjected it to a variety of federal sanctions, including the potential withholding of federal highway money, Goodrich said.

"But we have never been in that situation because we've actively worked to correct it," he said.

"It is not a good thing if you are violating national health standards. Plus, if we can maintain this clean air it is a good selling point for a good quality of life here in Washoe County."

Washoe County remains on the non-attainment list for particulate matter due primarily to dust from construction sites and gravel pits and sand dumped on roads during winter, but county officials have submitted a plan to be re-designated for that standard as well.

"We anticipate that re-designation will happen in the next year or so," Goodrich said.

A significant part of that plan has been the purchase of more efficient street sweepers by the state, the county and the cities of Reno and Sparks.

"With the old ones, you often saw a big cloud of dust and you wondered if they were picking up the dirt or just kicking it around," said Scott Magruder, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

"We also don't use as much salt and sand and are actually using a very hard, coarse, specific sand that doesn't get kicked up as much," he said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-01-04-08 1637EST