Ohio EPA says Summit, Medina, Portage meet federal standards for tiny soot; Cuyahoga, Stark fail to comply

By Bob Downing
Beacon Journal staff writer

CLEVELAND: The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is recommending that Summit, Portage and Medina counties meet federal standards for tiny soot from coal-burning power plants, diesel- and gasoline-powered vehicles, and factories.

Cuyahoga and Stark counties should be listed as failing that annual soot standard in the federal Clean Air Act based on data from 2011-2013, the state agency is recommending to the U.S. EPA.

A final federal decision is expected Aug. 14.

That’s potentially good news for the Akron area as it gets cleaner, healthier air and could avoid new restrictions on businesses, said Sam Rubens, administrator of the Akron Regional Air Quality Management District that oversees air pollution in the three counties. Ohio is preparing new rules to cut tiny soot, he said.

If adopted, the state’s recommendation would have tighter rules on businesses in Cuyahoga and Stark counties.

The news surfaced on Friday at a clean air committee meeting of the Cleveland-based Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency. The Ohio EPA recommendation was filed in mid-December.

In the past, all or parts of 27 Ohio counties were designated as being in non-attainment for microscopic soot.

Under the latest Ohio plan, only five counties would earn a non-attainment designation: Cuyahoga, Stark, Butler, Clermont and Hamilton.

In the past, the Akron-Cleveland area was in non-attainment.

That was initially eight counties: Summit, Portage, Medina, Cuyahoga, Lake, Lorain, Geauga and part of Ashtabula. Geauga County was later dropped.

The new recommendation means that only Cuyahoga County is in violation and that Lake, Lorain and part of Ashtabula are now in compliance along with Summit, Portage and Medina counties.

The state’s recommendation would also mean that the Akron-Cleveland area is no longer considered a single air region for soot pollution. In the past, a high soot reading in one county affected all seven counties.

Tiny soot — the particles are up to 1/30th the diameter of a human hair — is a major health threat because people breathe it deep into their lungs. It can cause heart and lung problems. It is associated with heart attacks, chronic bronchitis, asthma attacks and missed school and work. Children and older adults are particularly sensitive. Soot also contributes to smog and acid rain.

Particulate or soot is an ever-changing mixture of sulfate, nitrate, ammonia and hydrogen ions, along with carbon (soot), metals, organic materials and soil dust.

The United States typically has 10 million tons of suspended particles in the air.

There are two federal soot standards: an annual average limit of 12 micrograms of tiny soot per cubic meter of air, and a 24-hour fine-soot standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter (One microgram is equal to one-millionth the weight of a lima bean). The region meets the daily tiny soot limit.

There is a separate federal standard for larger particulates, and Northeast Ohio complies.

Summit’s annual tiny soot total averages 10.9 micrograms. Portage is 9.6 and Medina is 9.2 micrograms. Cuyahoga and Stark counties are both still above 12 micrograms.

Counties that do not comply could face sanctions on highway building and emission reductions for new businesses. The state must devise plans to reduce the particulate levels.

Authorities said reduced emissions from coal-burning power plants, new controls on diesel-powered vehicles and enforcement actions have lowered soot levels.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com.


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