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Macon among top violators of ozone standards, environmentalists say

By Christopher Schwarzen
The Macon Telegraph

Macon helped Georgia end 1999 in the Top 3 for states with the highest number of bad ozone days under proposed federal regulations, according to environmental groups.

Following the Environmental Protection Agency's new eight-hour standard for measuring ground-level ozone, Georgia ranked No. 3 among the nation's states with 72 unhealthy ozone days. Macon contributed 18 days above the eight-hour standard, according to figures collected from the state's Environmental Protection Division. The EPA's proposal allows only three days.

This information was released Thursday in a report titled "Danger in the Air" by environmental groups, including the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Georgia AirKeepers. Spokespeople for both organizations introduced the data in Macon, hoping to draw attention to the city's increasing ozone woes.

"Macon's figures for 1999 are up from 16 in 1998 and 12 from 1997," said Jennifer Giegerich of U.S. PIRG. "Until recently, you considered only cities like Atlanta with ozone problems. Now we're seeing cities like Macon becoming smog problems."

State officials have said they will more than likely submit Macon's as a non-attainment area this summer under the EPA's less strict one-hour rule. The EPA's eight-hour rule is held up in court for possibly being too arbitrary and will eventually be heard by the Supreme Court.

State officials have said Macon had four bad days in 1999 under the one-hour rule. That rule only allows one day over the limit each year.

Georgia ranked third behind Texas and Tennessee with 79 and 74 unhealthy ozone days respectively, according to the report. A day is considered unhealthy if the Environmental Protection Agency's health standard for smog was exceeded at a state monitor. California data was incomplete and not included in the rankings.

"We think most of the problems in Georgia and Macon come from vehicles and coal-fired power plants," said Jennifer Lyons of the Georgia AirKeepers. "There are three coal-fired plants right here surrounding Macon."

Both vehicles and power plants are sources of pollution that mix during hot weather to produce ozone, she said. Lyons wants to see more state and federal action requiring both to be cleaner.

"There doesn't seem to be a lot of support for such measures at the state legislative level in Georgia," Lyons said.

Giegerich said nationwide laws would be better because then no power company would have an economic edge. She acknowledged that pollution-control devices can be expensive.

Sherrill Marcus, a community organizer for Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice, suggested Macon should address its lack of mass transit. Statistically, ozone problems are hurting minorities living in deep urban areas more than whites in the suburbs, he said.

"Macon lacks a large mass transit system that could keep many cars off the roads," he said. "We know the interstate system through Macon isn't changing so at least offer mass transit."

Dr. Ed Arnold of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said the elderly and children are also disproportionately affected by ozone during unhealthy days. He suggested more studies needed to be done to determine what health affects are caused by asthma.

To contact Christopher Schwarzen, call 744-4213 or e-mail cschwarzen@macontel.com



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