Tuesday marks the beginning of ozone season, along with smog alerts for concerned residents and a ban on open burning throughout Middle Georgia.
Although Bibb and Monroe counties continue to be in a nonattainment zone for unsafe levels of fine particle pollution, air quality actually improved enough by last year that state officials expect the area to be removed from nonattainment as early as the end of the year.
Middle Georgia counties are among the 54 statewide that do not allow burning yard or land-clearing debris between May 1 and Sept. 30. Burning garbage is not allowed at any time of year.
Affected counties include Bibb, Crawford, Houston, Jasper, Jones, Lamar, Monroe, Peach, Putnam, Twiggs and Upson counties.
Smoke from open fires contributes both nitrogen oxides and particle pollution into the air, both of which contribute to lung and heart disease. Nitrogen oxide is one of the primary building blocks of ground-level ozone, which is smog.
Residents can learn more about the burn ban by visiting www.georgiaair.org and clicking on the open burning flame. Residents in counties not included in the burn ban must still acquire a burn permit from the Georgia Forestry Commission before conducting an open burn, either by calling their local commission office or applying at www.Gatrees.org.
The burn ban and other measures to reduce fine particle pollution began several years ago, and environmental regulators say they probably contributed to Bibb and Monroe counties meeting federal air standards for fine particle pollution last year.
The state has drafted a plan for maintaining that higher air quality, which is open for public comment until May 24, said Jac Capp, air branch chief for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Georgia likely will forward that plan to the federal Environmental Protection Agency soon afterward, and Capp said he is hopeful the EPA officially will remove the non-attainment designation from Bibb and Monroe by the end of the year.
Anyone wishing to comment on the state maintenance plan for fine particle pollution levels in Middle Georgia can e-mail EPDComments@dnr.state.ga.us. The plan may be viewed by following links from www.georgiaair.org. A public hearing to accept comments on the plan will be held at 7 p.m. May 17 in Room 237 of the Professional Sciences Center at Macon State College in Macon.
The nonprofit Clean Air Campaign offers a commuter rewards program for some workers who choose clean commuting options, and it also provides smog alert e-mails to interested Georgians during ozone season. The alerts notify residents when scientists are predicting smog levels that are unhealthy for sensitive groups or worse. Residents can learn more and sign up for alerts at www.cleanair.org.
Although Middle Georgia counties have been removed from a previous nonattainment zone for unsafe smog levels, the federal ozone standards could become more strict in the next few years. The Obama administration abandoned plans to revise the standards early, but a lawsuit by environmental groups is moving forward and could push up the time line, Capp said.
Current law calls for a revision to the ozone rules to be proposed next year.
To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.