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EPA says ozone levels in the St. Louis area remain too high

Illustration_RiciHoffarth_pollution.jpg
Rici Hoffarth
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St. Louis Public Radio
A report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows ozone levels in the St. Louis area remain high. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is working with the EPA on a reduction plan.

A new report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows the St. Louis area did not meet the agency’s ozone standards.

The report moves St. Louis, St. Louis County, St. Charles, Jefferson County and parts of Franklin County from the marginal to moderate ozone level category. More than 20 other regions across the country were also labeled under moderate ozone classifications.

The update means the region will need to adopt the standards set in 2015 that set the ozone limit to 70 parts per billion. The latest data showed ozone levels in the St. Louis area at 71 parts per billion, said Ashley Keas, an environmental engineer in EPA Region 7, which includes the St. Louis area.

“We set those at a level needed to protect human health and the environment,” Keas said.

Ground-level ozone arises when emissions from vehicles, power plants and other sources react to sunlight. Long-term exposure to the gas at ground level can lead to asthma and other respiratory illnesses. A 2021 American Lung Association report graded St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County with F’s for higher ozone levels between 2018 and 2020.

“We certainly want to ensure that we're protecting the health of all citizens, but also especially those citizens most at risk, and that are underserved and impacted disproportionately,” said Andy Hawkins, air quality planning branch manager for EPA Region 7. “We're pretty close to attainment. But obviously, we want to get the area back into attainment as soon as we can.”

Environmental advocates praised the EPA’s reclassification for the region, which pushes officials to follow stricter Clean Air Act guidelines. The regulations will protect residents while limiting the influence of the industries that are a leading source of pollution across the state, said Jenn DeRose of the Missouri Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

“The EPA’s escalation of the need to reduce harmful ozone pollution in my hometown is happening because Missouri’s hands-off approach to improving air quality in St. Louis City and County is not working,” DeRose said in a statement.

People can take steps to reduce their ozone emissions, including driving less and waiting until the evening to mow the lawn, Keas said.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resource has started working on a plan to bring the region back into attainment that would include evaluating existing control technologies to demonstrate that the region will meet ozone standards, said Steve Hall, director of the Air Pollution Control Program for the state department.

“We want to reduce that to minimize health effects to the citizens living in the area. And so that's really the purpose of these plans, is to get those concentrations down.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis 

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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