Air quality a bit better in Atlanta

29 09 2008

Tuesday marks the end of smog season, when cooler temperatures arrive to clear the skies and freshen the air.

A full retinue of pollution controls, coupled with some good weather, gave metro Atlanta one of its easiest-breathing summers in a decade. In fact, this was the third-best year for air quality since 1998, when the state began measuring eight-hour increments of ground-level ozone, a key ingredient in smog.  When smog does cloud the skyline, it’s not as bad now as it was in the mid- to late 1990s.

“We just don’t see those extraordinarily high peaks, even on those brutally hot summer days when the winds are just stagnant,” said air quality expert Michael Chang, an atmospheric scientist at Georgia Tech. “We’ve made some measurable progress.”

But the standard continues to get tougher. Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tightened the limit on ground-level ozone to 75 parts per billion measured over eight hours, down from the old limit of 84 parts per billion. The change was made to protect public health. The region violated the new standard on 29 days, which keeps it among the smoggiest metropolitan areas in the nation.

With most pollution controls checked off, Chang said it’s time to change the way the region develops and start investing in different modes of transportation, including commuter rail.

 

5 REASONS METRO ATLANTA’S AIR QUALITY HAS IMPROVED:

1. Power plant cleanup: Georgia Power Co. installed $800 million worth of pollution controls at seven of the state’s largest coal-burning power plants between 2001 and 2003.

2. More power plant cleanup: Out-of-state power plants that had dirtied metro Atlanta’s air installed similar controls to reduce emissions by 2004 under a federal requirement.

3. Vehicles got cleaner: During the past several years, new cars and pickup trucks have had to meet tighter emission standards.

4. Gas got cleaner: Georgia began requiring low-sulfur gasoline for 45 counties in and around metro Atlanta three years earlier than last year’s final phase-in of national low-sulfur requirements. Federal standards also require cleaner diesel fuel.

5. More people, less driving: High gas prices have forced drivers off the road; more commuters are opting to car pool, telework, take mass transit, bike or walk to work.

 

WHAT METRO ATLANTA PLANS TO DO TO GET EVEN CLEANER, AND COMPLY WITH THE FEDERAL CLEAN AIR ACT:

1. Convert Georgia Power’s Plant McDonough from coal to natural gas, scheduled to be completed in 2012.

2. Add pollution controls at all but the smallest of Georgia Power’s coal-fired units between 2011 and 2015.

3. Reduce emissions from older heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses.

4. Reduce emissions from locomotives and construction equipment.

Source: Georgia Environmental Protection Division

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