Portage among eight Ohio counties failing to meet air quality standards

Tom Gallick

Cleveland traffic affects surrounding areas

The air in eight Ohio counties, including Portage, fails to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for acceptable soot particle levels.

Cuyahoga, Jefferson, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Stark and Summit counties have also not met stronger air pollution standards set in 2006, according to an Environmental Protection Agency press release.

According to data collected from 2006 to 2008 by the EPA, eight Ohio counties are violating the nation’s 24-hour fine particulate matter standards.

High levels of fine soot in the air “can cause a number of serious health problems including aggravated asthma, increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits, heart attacks and premature death,” according to an EPA press release.

Ohio EPA spokesperson Michael Settles said fine particle air pollution is dangerous because of the size of the pollutants: nearly one-thirtieth the width of a human hair.

“The interest in trying to get the numbers down is because the particulates are so small they can be inhaled deep into the lungs,” he said.

Settles said the Ohio EPA has three years to create a plan to fix the soot pollution problem in Northeast Ohio counties and submit it to the federal government. He said the department will work closely with local air quality agencies to correct the problem.

The Akron Regional Air Quality Management District is charged with monitoring air pollution in Medina, Portage and Summit counties and enforcing federal standards.

Frank Markunas, interim administrator of the ARAQMD, said Cuyahoga County’s air pollution has a negative impact on the counties in his district.

“I think the situation is that Summit and Portage counties are lumped in with Cuyahoga,” Markunas said. “We contribute to it (the air pollution), but the Cleveland area is busier so they share more of the responsibility.”

He said the biggest contributor to fine particle pollution is transportation, and Cleveland’s heavy traffic affects the air quality in surrounding counties. Coal burning power plants and factories are also major sources of the pollution.

Settles said the Ohio EPA has also come to the conclusion the greater Cleveland area is the biggest obstacle to meeting clean air standards in Ohio.

“The challenge is Cuyahoga County,” Settles said. “The EPA doesn’t recognize political borders. It’s no secret that Cleveland is a challenge with all of its industry. We’re working with local officials in Cuyahoga County to try to solve the problem.”

Federal guidelines place Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage and Summit in the same monitoring region, meaning a high reading in Cuyahoga will contribute to a high reading in those surrounding counties.

Jefferson and Stark counties failed to comply with federal standards based on readings in their county alone.

Despite eight counties remaining on the list, Ohio’s air quality has improved greatly throughout the last three years. In 2008, the EPA determined 28 Ohio counties were violating the new soot standards, but all but eight improved enough to make it off the list by 2009.

Counties located around Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton and Youngstown were among the counties to meet the new standards this year.

States with counties that do not meet federal guidelines will have to develop plans to correct the problem within the next three years and comply with standards within the next five years. Penalties for failing to meet national standards include withholding of funds for highways.

Markunas said Ohio’s successful efforts to reduce emissions such as ozone in the past lead him to believe the state can solve this problem.

“I believe we can continue to improve the air quality in Northeast Ohio,” Markunas said. “We can make it healthier to live and recreate in.”

Contact public affairs reporter Tom Gallick at [email protected].