Maryland poised to meet clean air standards

Media contact:
Jay Apperson

BALTIMORE, MD (August 31, 2015) – A new federal proposal rewards Maryland for continued improvements in air quality — gains that position Maryland to meet standards for the pollutant ground level ozone throughout the state for the first time.

The proposal, from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is based on recent air quality monitoring data for the metropolitan Washington area of Maryland and the northeast portion of the state. It would extend the deadline to meet the current health-based standard for ground-level ozone to those areas and others across the country showing significant progress toward meeting that standard.

The EPA determined earlier this year that the Baltimore metropolitan area is meeting the standard, and other parts of the state have previously been determined to have met the standard. A preliminary MDE analysis shows the entire state is on pace to meet the ozone standard for this summer’s air quality.

All of the determinations for ozone are based on the current standard, set in 2008, of 75 parts per billion. A new, more stringent ozone standard is expected to be announced this fall. All of Maryland has met the standards for soot, or fine particle, air pollution since 2012.

“The hard work, strong controls and steady investments made for clean air are paying off with remarkable progress that has us poised to meet air quality standards across the state for the first time ever,” said Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “But this will be a short celebration if we do not continue to make improvements needed to meet a more stringent ozone standard. Much more needs to be done, within the state and beyond, to consistently improve and maintain Maryland’s air quality.”

Ground level ozone is the main ingredient in urban and regional smog. Common air pollutants, such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), are released from fuel-burning sources such as vehicles and electric utilities and from consumer products such as paint and aerosol products. These pollutants react with heat and sunlight, producing ground level ozone. Unhealthy levels of ground level ozone occur during the summer months, typically May through September.

High concentrations of ozone can cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, fatigue, headaches, nausea, chest pain and eye and throat irritation. The most common symptom that people have when exposed to ozone while exercising is pain when taking a deep breath. Ozone is also linked to premature death.

Maryland’s air quality has improved significantly in recent years. Reductions in emissions from utilities, motor vehicles and other sources as diverse as manufacturing and consumer products have reduced the number of days on which Marylanders breathe unhealthy air. Thus far in 2015, Maryland has experienced three days in which the ozone standard was exceeded. The previous record low was five days, set last year.

In recent years Maryland has implemented the Maryland Healthy Air Act, the toughest power plant emissions law on the East Coast, and the Maryland Clean Cars Program. Maryland power plants have invested $2.6 billion in technology to comply with the Maryland Healthy Air Act. The Act has helped to drive down ozone levels and allow Maryland to meet standards for fine particle pollution

The EPA has found that the metropolitan Baltimore area is for the first time in more than three decades meeting the ozone standard. The EPA’s “Clean Data Determination,” proposed in the March 18 Federal Register, reflects air monitoring data for the past three years for the area that includes Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, Harford and Carroll counties. That data shows that the area did not exceed the current ozone standard for the first time since measurements began in 1980.

The EPA’s current proposal would allow eight areas of the country to qualify for a one-year extension of the July 20, 2015, deadline to meet the current ozone standard. The proposal is based on 2014 air monitoring data. The proposal applies to the Philadelphia-Wilmington-Atlantic City area, which for air quality monitoring purposes includes Cecil County, Maryland, and the Washington area, which includes Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland.

The EPA is expected to announce in October a new standard for ozone in the range of 65- to 70 parts per billion. Maryland continues to work to reduce ozone levels through new efforts to reduce emissions from industry, mobile sources such as cars and trucks and an increased emphasis on reducing emissions in states that are upwind of Maryland.

Research shows that pollution from upwind states accounts for up to 70 percent of the ozone levels recorded in Maryland. This air pollution that floats from state to state affects almost every state east of the Mississippi River. Over the past few years, Maryland has played a critical role in bringing together approximately 25 states to see where progress could be made in addressing this issue. This collaborative effort with Air Directors and Commissioners in many states is looking at new regional control efforts for power plants, vehicles and other sources of air pollution.

The Maryland Department of the Environment adopted regulations to reduce air pollution from the state’s coal-fired power plants starting in the summer of 2015 and ensure the immediate public health benefits of protecting Marylanders from breathing unhealthy levels of ozone air pollution. The reductions expected from the implementation of the regulations for nitrogen oxides emissions from the state’s coal-fired power plants are expected to be significant and to be part of a series of initiatives that will allow Maryland to attain and maintain compliance with the current standard for ozone pollution. MDE has submitted for a legislative committee’s review a proposal for regulations that would provide longer term reductions in air pollution from the state’s coal-fired power plants.

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