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EPA Announces that Richmond and Hampton Roads Meet Air Quality Health Standards for 8-hour Ozone

Release Date: 05/29/2007
Contact Information: Donna Heron 215-814-5113 / and Bill Hayden 804-698-4447 /

PHILADELPHIA (May 29, 2007) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that the Richmond and the Hampton Roads areas of Virginia now have air quality that meets the federal standard for protecting the public’s health from ozone pollution. In addition, Richmond and Hampton Roads have met other Clean Air Act requirements for controlling air emissions that contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone.

    The Hampton Roads area encompasses the cities of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, and the counties of James City, York, Gloucester and the Isle of Wight.

    The Richmond area encompasses the counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Hanover, Henrico and Prince George; and the cities of Colonial Heights, Hopewell, Petersburg and Richmond.

    These areas, which had previously violated the ozone health standard, have been formally redesignated to attainment for EPA’s 8-hour ozone standard.

    The complete, quality-assured, outdoor air monitoring data for the 2003-2005 ozone seasons shows that the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas are meeting the 8-hour ozone standard. EPA’s action will soon be published in the Federal Register.

    “Ground-level ozone is a significant public health concern, but thanks to federal and state efforts, Richmond and Hampton Roads’ air quality have improved over the past decade," said Donald S. Welsh, regional administrator of EPA’s mid-Atlantic region. “Our redesignation means that residents of the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas are breathing cleaner, healthier air. People can be proud of this accomplishment.”

    “We have worked diligently for several years to improve air quality in these regions,” Governor Timothy M. Kaine said. “This is a huge achievement that lets millions of Virginians breathe easier and brings us closer to our goal of healthy air for every part of the commonwealth.”

    In April 2004, EPA designated Richmond and Hampton Roads as nonattainment because the air quality did not meet the new, stricter 8-hour ozone standard. The designation became effective in June 2004.

    This redesignation to attainment by EPA includes the agency’s approval of an 8-hour ozone maintenance plan submitted by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality showing how the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas will remain in attainment for ozone through 2018. Additionally, Northern Virginia remains a part of the ozone transport region that includes a group of northeastern states that work together to develop regional control strategies to reduce ozone levels.

    Ozone, an odorless and colorless gas, is formed when sunlight “cooks” the pollution emitted from cars, power plants, industrial boilers, refineries, chemical plants and other sources. The resulting chemical reaction produces smoggy air that can be hazardous to breathe when ground level ozone reaches high levels – something that happens during the summer months. Gas stations, print shops, household products like paints and cleaners, as well as lawn and garden equipment, also contribute to ozone formation.

    Warm summer temperatures aid the formation of ground-level ozone, which is considered unhealthy when concentrations exceed 0.08 parts per million (ppm) over an 8-hour period. Poor air quality affects everyone, but some people are particularly sensitive to ozone, including children and adults who are active outdoors, and people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Exposure to elevated ozone levels can cause serious breathing problems, aggravate asthma and other pre-existing lung diseases and make people more susceptible to respiratory infection.

    The federal Clean Air Act has led to significant improvements in ozone air quality over the past 20 years. Nationally and regionally EPA has taken a number of steps to further reduce air pollution. EPA emission standards for new vehicles will result in cars that are 77 percent to 95 percent cleaner by 2009 (phase-in began in 2004) and cleaner-burning gasoline that contains 90 percent less sulfur. Also, EPA’s clean diesel trucks and buses program will reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions from new trucks and buses by more than 90 percent beginning this year. In addition, EPA has issued the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) to help reduce the transport of air pollution from power plants across state boundaries. When fully implemented, CAIR will reduce power plant nitrogen dioxide emissions by more than 60 percent and sulfur dioxide emissions by more than 70 percent from 2003 levels.