Blount County attains federal air quality standards

Article courtesy The Daily Times

By Lesli Bales-Sherrod, The Daily Times

Blount County and the rest of the greater Knoxville region has reached attainment with all federal air quality standards for the first time since June 15, 2004, Maryville Mayor Tom Taylor told his fellow City Council members at a meeting last week.

The long-sought designation was made official by the Environmental Protection Agency in Federal Register notices published Aug. 28 for the daily particulate matter 2.5 standard and Aug. 29 for the annual PM 2.5 standard, according to a PowerPoint presentation given to the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization’s Executive Board at its meeting Sept. 27.

“The issue of air pollution has plagued us for decades while our ability to control most of the variables causing it was out of our control,” said Taylor, who serves on the board. “Clean air is essential to our health and well-being and, for those most susceptible to the impacts of poor air quality, it is even more critical.

“The bottom line of this attainment is, people are breathing easier,” he added. “That is what’s important.”

The area was first designated by EPA as being in nonattainment for national ambient air quality standards for ozone and particulate matter on April 5, 2005.

Particulate matter, commonly abbreviated as PM, is “the term for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air,” according to the EPA Particle Matter website at www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/particulate-matter-pm-basics.

PM 2.5 are “fine inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller,” the EPA website notes. That’s 30 times smaller than the diameter of the average human hair.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced in July 2015 that Blount, Knox and part of Anderson County met attainment status for the 2008 8-Hour Ozone Standard.

Alexander made a similar announcement in August that Blount, Anderson, Knox counties and part of Roane County met 1997 annual PM 2.5 criteria and the 2006 24-hour PM 2.5 criteria.

The daily designation of attainment went into effect Sept. 27.

“We have done marvelous work on that,” Taylor told City Council, citing federal Clean Air Act regulations and better technology as factors in the reduction of air pollution despite an increase in population and vehicle traffic.

The Tennessee Valley Authority reducing emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide by more than 90 percent at its Kingston plant also was a significant factor in achieving attainment status, he added.

“In 1999, we had 135 days when our ozone and PM 2.5 levels exceeded attainment standards,” Taylor said. “In 2015, we had only two days.”

Not only is clean air “critically important for the environment and quality of life” for citizens, the Maryville mayor added that attainment will open up the area to new opportunities with environmentally-minded industries.

“Being in non-attainment has cost us some business prospects,” he said. “Now we are no longer in danger of being knocked out of really cream industrial aspects."