PRESS RELEASE
from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality

For more information,contact
Brian McManus (402) 471-4223, or
Jim Bunstock (402) 471-4243
For Immediate Release
July 6, 2010
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Editor’s note: This press release is issued jointly by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the Omaha-Council Bluffs area Metropolitan Area Planning Agency.

CONTACT:
Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality: Bev Kellison, (402) 471-2819, or Brian McManus, (402) 471-4223;
Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA): Tara Ryan, (402) 444-6866, ext. 218;
Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Mindy Kralicek, (515) 281-7832
Cooperative Agreements Announced to Reduce Ozone Pollution
in the Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan Area

Omaha -- Citizens and environmental stakeholders in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area will be engaged to reduce ozone in agreements signed by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agreements were signed July 6 during a news conference at the Omaha City Council Chambers.

The EPA intends to announce a more stringent health standard for ground-level ozone by August 31, and the proposed standard is right at the level Omaha’s air monitors annually measure, says Deb McGuire of NDEQ. “If an area goes over EPA's limit, there are serious economic consequences, such as restrictions on transportation projects and increased requirements for pollution control equipment.”

The DNR and the NDEQ will pass through EPA grant funds to the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) to fund a public outreach campaign and facilitate a community-based planning effort.

DEQ Director Mike Linder explained the purpose of this approach, “The planning and the process will be owned by those affected by it, rather than be subject to a plan driven by state or federal government.” During the process, stakeholders will identify performance measures to reduce ozone levels in the metro area.

The EPA’s health standard is set to provide protection for citizens’ health and researchers have discovered health is impacted by lower levels of ozone exposure than previously believed. The largest portion of ozone is caused by emissions from automobile and other gasoline- and diesel-powered engines, and from industries. Fumes from paint, solvents, consumer products, varnishes, and industry chemicals also contribute to the formation of ozone.

The current health standard for ozone, 75 parts per billion (ppb), is expected to be lowered to between 60 and 70. Ozone is formed when several common airborne pollutants, called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), commonly referred to as “ozone precursors,” react with sunlight and heat. Ozone season in Nebraska and Iowa is typically May through September.

Health impacts of breathing ozone include chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. It can also reduce lung function and inflame lung linings. Children are especially vulnerable because their lungs are growing and they breathe 1.5 times the volume of air adults do for their size.

To reduce metro-area ozone, drive less by carpooling or riding the bus, switch to non-gasoline powered lawn equipment, and walk or bike to complete errands when possible.