This region’s ozone dirtier than most |

This region’s ozone dirtier than most

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

El Dorado County is ranked eighth out of 25 counties in the nation that have the worst ozone pollution, according to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2003 report released today.

Air pollution in El Dorado County is getting worse because of growth on its West Slope and because pollution created in the Bay Area and Sacramento drifts into the county, environmental officials said.

Last year, the county placed 18th in the annual ranking.

Ozone is three molecules of oxygen and is created when oxides of nitrogen from car exhausts react with hydrocarbons, which are evaporated solvents, paints, and light petroleum products. The condition takes bright light and several hours to form, with concentrations peaking around 2 p.m., said Earl Withycombe, a volunteer with the American Lung Association and consultant engineer in the field of air pollution control.

“It’s not one of the areas with the highest emission levels,” said Withycombe, of El Dorado County. “Rather, monitoring stations are downwind of metropolitan areas … that’s the reason El Dorado County is in the top 10.”

Withycombe added that the center of emissions in the Sacramento area is at the Placer and Sacramento county lines.

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“Vehicles are generating more miles east of Sacramento in the foothills of El Dorado and Placer counties,” Withycombe said. “As a result, it’s causing the peak ozone measurements farther and farther up the hill.”

Nevada County ranked 13th and Placer County 17th in the Lung Association’s report.

El Dorado County is working to combat the air pollution problem. Marcella McTaggart, the county air pollution control officer, said the problem is a regional one and air pollution control districts are working together to track the chemicals in the air.

“We’re pooling our funds together,” McTaggart said. “We’re contracting out to companies who specialize in chemical transport models to determine where it’s coming from and what we can do.”

Efforts to control air pollution in the Bay Area have been ongoing and this year marks the first year that vehicle owners there will have to meet stricter smog requirements.

Across the state, air pollution control districts have been in place since 1970. And the air is getting cleaner.

Withycombe reports a 50 percent reduction in air pollution in the Los Angeles area, a 30 percent reduction in the Sacramento area and a 40 percent pollution reduction in the Bay Area.

The problem is that whatever pollution that is generated from the Bay Area and Sacramento Valley blows straight into the foothill counties, El Dorado County Board of Supervisor Dave Solaro said.

“We simply don’t have the kind of industry to create this kind of air pollution and we are getting penalized for it by the state and by agencies who give grants,” Solaro said.

Still California is ahead of the other 49 states because of its strict standards for auto emissions, which accounts for about 65 percent of the ozone pollution.

Withycombe said biannual smog testing is not required for vehicles at the Lake Tahoe Basin because it is in attainment of ozone standards set for the area. Sacramento-area residents must have biannual smog inspections but the region is expected to meet its air quality goals by 2005.

Solaro said that smog inspection may be required in El Dorado County now that Bay Area counties will have to conform to stricter smog standards.

— Jeff Munson contributed to this report.