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.
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. 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.