Low temperatures in Columbus this summer have offered some relief to a city that’s on a watch list for dirty air quality.
“We are in a good range now,” Rick Jones, director of Columbus’ Planning Department, said Wednesday.
With the city of Columbus recommended for nonattainment status for its air quality, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division will closely monitor ground level ozone, which is a component of smog. Last year, the city slightly exceeded tougher air quality standards of 0.75 parts per million set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
So far this month, an average high temperature of 89.6 degrees and low of 69.6 degrees have contributed to “good” to “moderate” air quality levels in Columbus. The average temperature is 79.6 degrees, 2.3 degrees below normal.
“Definitely when you do the average, over two degrees is a noticeable difference,” said Matt Sena, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, Ga. “Computer models are indicating for the next seven days, the trend will continue.”
Since January, Columbus has not issued a smog alert for unhealthy air. Jones said he is hoping the high temperatures will remain low this summer. Consistent temperatures in the high 90s would cause problems for ground level ozone.
Breathing polluted air can irritate eyes and throat and trigger respiratory problems, especially among people with asthma.
According to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s Web site, air quality has been observed for 184 days this year in Columbus. Air quality was characterized as “good” for 124 days and “moderate” for 60 days.
Although the numbers may be encouraging, Jones said he is still worried about levels in August and September, the last months of the smog season.
“We are trying to see, hope and pray if we can stay in the good to moderate level,” Jones said. “If we get higher temperatures, there is potential for more ground pollution.”
When the smog season ends, Jones said data from 2007, 2008 and 2009 will be combined to determine if the city should officially be placed in nonattainment status. Nonattainment status is assigned to areas where air pollution levels consistently exceed the national standards, according to the EPA’s Web site.
“This is a make-or-break summer,” Jones said.
By the end of this month, Jones said the city is expected to receive $200,000 grant from the President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan. The money will help fund the Air Quality Alliance of the Chattahoochee Valley, a group that works with businesses, schools and other organizations to educate residents about improving air quality. The alliance rewards motorists for walking, bicycling, riding Metra Transit and carpooling to work.
“It’s a problem that is not going to go away,” Jones said.