Air quality | St. Louis Public Radio

Air quality

An illustration of pollution, 2017
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has requested the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency upgrade Jefferson County's air quality status, now that levels of sulfur dioxide have dropped below the federal limit. 

In 2013, the EPA designated Jefferson County as "nonattainment," or not meeting the federal standard for sulfur dioxide, a gas that produces toxic odors and causes respiratory problems. A monitor near the Doe Run lead smelter in Herculaneum detected sulfur dioxide levels above 200 parts per billion, said Kyra Moore, director of the state's air quality control program. After the smelter closed in 2013, levels have dropped well below the 75 parts per billion limit. 

An illustration of pollution, 2017
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

For years, Granite City had some of the worst air quality in Illinois. But a new effort to track greenhouse gases could help reduce the city’s air pollution and improve public health.

For 18 months, Washington University researchers tracked levels of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide from Granite City municipal operations. The area has historically dealt with high levels of particulate matter pollution, largely from the local U.S. Steel plant. The plant idled temporarily at the end of 2015 but began operating again this year.

The Sierra Club's Andy Knott speaks at a rally in 2013 in front of a 15-foot tall inflatable inhaler in Keiner Plaza
File Photo | Sarah Skiold-Hanlin | St. Louis Public Radio & The Beacon

Story updated Feb. 17 with comment from Ameren Missouri — A federal judge has approved the Sierra Club's request to intervene in a Clean Air Act lawsuit between Ameren Missouri and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Last month, Chief Judge Rodney Sippel ruled in U.S. District Court that Ameren violated the Clean Air Act when it installed boiler equipment at the Rush Island Power Plant in Festus in the late 2000s without acquiring special permits. The new equipment caused the plant to emit more sulfur dioxide emissions, which at high levels can cause asthma and exacerbate respiratory conditions.

Before Sippel held the first meeting Thursday to determine how Ameren should reduce air pollution, the Sierra Club's lawyers filed a motion to intervene, out of concern that the Trump administration could put the case in jeopardy.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources

The Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club plans to put pressure on state lawmakers to make sure St. Louis and Kansas City are better represented on the Missouri Air Conservation Commission. 

The commissioners are responsible for enforcing the Clean Air Act in Missouri. Members are appointed by the governor and approved by the state Senate. There are currently five commissioners and two vacant seats, which have been empty for some time. 

Environmental activists say that the current commissioners have been ineffective at addressing air quality in Missouri's metro areas. The St. Louis area doesn't meet federal air quality standards for ozone and Jackson County, which includes Kansas City, does not meet the federal air quality standards for sulfur dioxide. Both pollutants at elevated levels can pose a risk to children, the elderly and those with respiratory issues.

Gas extraction wells on the Bridgeton Landfill in summer 2016.
File Photo |Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

Champ Landfill in Maryland Heights will pay $1.6 million in air quality improvements, under the terms of a settlement it reached with the Environmental Protection Agency Thursday. 

Agency officials inspected the landfill in May and detected methane emissions from the surface that exceed the federal limit. Methane makes up 50 percent of landfill gas. 

ozone air pollution St. Louis
Missouri Department of Natural Resources

The St. Louis metro area has one of the worst smog levels in the country. In recent years, ozone levels have declined, but the region must  comply with stronger federal air quality standards set last year. 

Under the 2008 standard, St. Charles, St. Louis, Franklin and Jefferson counties had exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency's ozone limit at 75 parts per billion. After 2013, ozone levels in the area dropped and state officials say the counties comply with the 2008 standard. However, a new EPA rule last year lowered the standard to 70 parts per billion. State officials are now asking the EPA to indicate that the region meets the old ozone regulations, but not the new. 

Provided by Bi-State Development Agency

Updated Friday, July 22 at 5:07p.m. with statement from Ameren Missouri — Ameren Missouri and the Sierra Club reached a $2 million settlement Thursday in U.S. District Court over the utility company's alleged violations of the Clean Air Act.

Eli Chen

The Environmental Protection Agency has declared that there isn't enough information to determine if the air around Ameren Missouri's largest power plant is polluted. 

The federal agency had until July 2 to say whether an area around the power plant in Labadie, Mo., about 40 miles from St. Louis, exceeded federal safety limits for sulfur dioxide. The gas is a byproduct of coal production, which can cause respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, and exacerbate cardiovascular conditions at high levels.

Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

There's good ozone and there's bad ozone. The good kind sits up high up in the stratosphere, protecting us from the sun's ultraviolet rays. The bad kind is formed by burning fossil fuels and is found in the smog in Los Angeles and China. 

Bad ozone can cause health problems for children, for the elderly and people with lung diseases like asthma. It can also harm other living things, like plants. But like other greenhouse gases, it is invisible. So it's hard for scientists to show people the effects of bad ozone, which contributes to climate change, said Jack Fishman, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Saint Louis University. 

To get the message across, in recent years, Fishman and other researchers at SLU set up special gardens funded by NASA to demonstrate how ozone levels affect living organisms. Their work is expanding now that they've received a $91,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to exhibit such plants year-round in "ozone chambers."

U.S. Supreme Court
supremecourt.gov

The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the use of midazolam as part of the execution protocol in Oklahoma. The same drug had been used — and challenged — in Missouri.  In the execution of Richard Strong earlier this month, midazolam was used as a sedative before pentobarbital was used to carry out the execution.

Saint Louis University | Provided

It’s a stretch to think about summer now. 

But close your eyes and imagine.

The sun is shining; bees are buzzing; your arms move through warm air; you even have to mop a thin veil of perspiration from your brow. And on the news in the morning, Geri Mitchell intones the familiar admonition: “It’s a red air quality day. Sensitive groups should avoid exercising outdoors.”

via NASA

A new report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council warns that smoke from wildfires poses health risks to people living far from the actual blaze.

The study used data from 2011, an especially bad year for wildfires in the US, to rank states with the greatest number of residents affected by wildfire smoke for longer than a week.

Illinois and Missouri were ranked second and fourth respectively, despite having no wildfires of their own.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: August 14, 2008- mThe Olympics are in full swing. Our athletes are bringing home the gold.

Still, all is not well in Beijing. Concerns have been swirling around Beijing's air quality for months. China's weather exacerbates the effects of the pollution. And if Mother Nature has any consistency at all, it's in being inconsistent. It will be largely a matter of luck whether the best -or worst- air quality corresponds with the outdoor Olympic events.