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  full story
Macon trails only metro Atlanta in smog

By Anna Clark
The Macon Telegraph

Smog isn't just a big city problem anymore.

Macon has had nine days when pollution levels exceeded federal limits so far this ozone season, tying with Augusta for the seventh most violations in the state. Gwinnett County in the metropolitan Atlanta area had only one more violation than Macon.

Georgia's Top 10 ozone violators May 1-July 20, 1998, and number of days smog exceeded limits

1. Conyers, 24

2. Downtown Atlanta, 21

3. Fayetteville, 19

4. Douglasville, 16

5. Tucker, 11

6. Gwinnett County, 10

7. Macon, 9

7. Augusta, 9

8. Yorkville (Paulding County), 7

8. South Dekalb County , 7

9. Columbus, 4

10. Cohutta (north Georgia mountains), 3

10. Dawsonville (north Georgia mountains), 3

"This is not just a metro-Atlanta, inside-the-perimeter problem - this is a Georgia problem," said Robert Pregulman in the Atlanta office of the United States Public Interest Research Group, which released a report Thursday detailing Georgia's ozone-pollution problems.

The report is cause for concern. Smog causes health problems, and a documented history of ozone violations could result in a loss of federal transportation funding for repeat offenders.

All offenders ahead of Macon and Augusta were in the Atlanta area, most with significantly more violations. The report was based on data accumulated by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

Ground-level ozone makes smog, which irritates the lungs, especially among asthmatics, children and the elderly and those exercising outside. The smog settles over cities, particularly on hot summer days.

Dr. Rebecca Bass, who specializes in lung diseases, said she has seen a higher number of patients with respiratory distress this summer, but the unusual heat and bad allergies have also been factors.

Just as on days with a high heat index or pollen count, Bass said she recommends people with respiratory illnesses stay indoors as much as possible on days with bad pollution.

The two main culprits for ozone are vehicles that burn gasoline and industries with combustion plants that burn fuel. ... Half of the ozone in Atlanta comes from the area's 2.25 million cars, but the EPD has not yet targeted Macon's main source.

This summer is Macon's first full-year of ozone-level testing. And because the federal standards became more stringent this year, comparisons are difficult. Last year, Macon had only one day when it was out of compliance with the former federal air-quality guidelines.

The two main culprits for ozone are vehicles that burn gasoline and industries with combustion plants that burn fuel. U.S. PIRG's report said that car manufacturers are doing their part to build cleaner-burning cars but power plants, a major source of the smog, should do more to clean their output.

Half of the ozone in Atlanta comes from the area's 2.25 million cars, but the EPD has not yet targeted Macon's main source, said Rafael Ballagas, with the EPD's air-protection branch.

Because of Atlanta's long-standing history of non-compliance, it has lost federal transportation funding indefinitely for new road projects that increase traffic flow. Macon does not stand to lose any such federal funding until 2004, after three years's worth of averaged data and three more years to remedy the problem.

But the data so far indicates that Macon has something to worry about.

"It's possible that it will be in non-attainment," said Ron Methier, chief of the EPD's air protection branch. "Macon, Columbus and Augusta we're watching very carefully, in addition to metro Atlanta."

The EPD has a toll-free number for people to call to learn the level of pollution at any given time, with a health warning when levels are high: 800-427-9605.


Tips from the American Lung Association for high ozone days:

*Train early in the morning or in the evening. Ozone smog builds up with sunlight over time, so the highest levels usually occur in the afternoon.

*Avoid congested streets and rush hour traffic. Pollution levels can be high 50 feet from the roadway. One main culprit for carbon monoxide, which causes an ozone build-up, is motor vehicles, so the highest levels usually occur during rush hour or traffic congestions.

*Children with asthma are especially sensitive to air pollution. Ozone pollution can trigger asthma attacks, so parents should look for warning signs when children are exercising outside. Rigorous play is best in the early morning before ozone levels rise.


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