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Being able to breath easier

STEUBENVILLE — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio EPA announced the formal redesignation of the Ohio portion of the Steubenville area to attainment of the most recent federal air quality standard for sulfur dioxide.

According to information released jointly by both agencies, recent air monitoring data shows the area now meets the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for sulfur dioxide in addition to all other federal air quality standards set to protect public health.

“Ohio is making tremendous progress toward cleaner air across the state,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said, adding the announcement “demonstrates the continued focus that the state has placed creating communities where people want to live and businesses want to expand.”

“The recognition that the Steubenville area is meeting the national sulfur dioxide standard reflects continuing progress in efforts to improve air quality and the quality of life for Ohio residents,” said Ohio EPA Director Laurie A. Stevenson.

Wheeler noted that the agencies working together has had a positive impact locally. “By working with states to help them meet air quality standards, we are helping areas like Steubenville breathe easier and improve the local economy,” Wheeler said.

“EPA’s partnership with the state of Ohio has resulted in cleaner, healthier air for the 38,000 people who call the Steubenville area home,” EPA Region 5 Administrator Cathy Stepp said. “Now that Steubenville has been redesignated, local businesses will face fewer air permitting restrictions, paving the way for the infrastructure investment and economic development that help create jobs.”

Agencies within West Virginia also were credited with the redesignation.

The Steubenville area was designated nonattainment for sulfur dioxide in 2013 based on air monitoring data. Ohio EPA worked collaboratively with EPA and West Virginia to develop strategies for attaining the sulfur dioxide standard, which included establishing new emission limits for an area power plant.

Three years of recent monitoring data show the Steubenville area is now attaining the 2010 NAAQS for sulfur dioxide. The Steubenville area was already in attainment for all other air pollutants regulated under NAAQS, according to information release in the joint statement.

EPA has now formally redesignated the Ohio portion of the Steubenville area to attainment and approved Ohio’s maintenance plan to ensure that the area will continue to meet the sulfur dioxide standard. Once an area has been redesignated to attainment, businesses seeking air permits face fewer permitting restrictions.

The redesignation became final after the public had an opportunity to comment on the proposal. Now that the redesignation is finalized, the Ohio portion of the Steubenville area will be in attainment for all NAAQS. The Ohio portion of the Steubenville area includes the city of Steubenville and four townships in Jefferson County. The entire Steubenville area, which also includes a portion of West Virginia, is meeting the sulfur dioxide NAAQS.

The Steubenville area contains census tracts designated as federal Opportunity Zones. An Opportunity Zone is an economically-distressed community where new investment, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. When possible, EPA is working to target and focus its efforts on Opportunity Zones.

The largest source of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere is through the burning of fossil fuels by power plants and other industrial facilities. Short-term exposure to sulfur dioxide can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult. Children, the elderly, and those who suffer from asthma are particularly sensitive to effects of sulfur dioxide.

High concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the air generally also lead to the formation of other sulfur oxides. Sulfur oxides can react with other compounds in the atmosphere to form small particles that contribute to particulate matter pollution, which may penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs and cause additional health problems.

At the national level, average concentrations of sulfur dioxide decreased 79 percent from 2000-17.

According to the release, all other air pollutants regulated under NAAQS — carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide — have also significantly decreased due to the various air quality management and control strategies developed and implemented at the local, state, regional and national level.

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