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Virginia air is cleaner

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine today announced significant improvements in Virginia’s air quality during the past decade. Between 1999 and 2009, the Commonwealth saw a 96 percent decrease in the number of days that exceeded the national air quality standard for ground-level ozone at monitoring stations statewide, with summer 2009 standing out as the best year on record.

“We’ve made incredible strides in the last decade to improve our air quality through deliberate pollution reduction initatives,” Kaine said. “By tackling ozone pollution in particular, we’re making steady gains that protect the environment, promote human health, and will continue to benefit Virginians for generations to come.”

The number of poor air quality days in Virginia declined from 76 in 1999 to three in 2009, according to the most recent data from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Summer 2009 had the fewest number of days on record that did not meet air quality standards. There were only three days with poor air quality in Northern Virginia, and zero days in Richmond and Hampton Roads.

The downward trend in Virginia occurred in all parts of the state that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated as not meeting air quality standards. During the last 10 years:
· Metropolitan Richmond declined from 47 poor air quality days to zero.
· Hampton Roads declined from 32 days to zero.
· Northern Virginia declined from 48 days to three.

Stronger emission controls on power plants and other industrial sources, as well as cleaner motor vehicles have contributed to improved air quality in Virginia. Controls were implemented in the late 1990s and again in 2004. In addition, the vehicle emissions inspections in place in Northern Virginia since the 1980s supplement the improved emission control equipment on newer automobiles. This year, Governor Kaine established a unique program to survey air pollution from facilities throughout the Commonwealth that were initially grandfathered by the 1970 federal Clean Air Act. This groundbreaking initiative—the first of its kind in the nation—allows DEQ to work with individual facilities as appropriate to reduce pollution and ensure compliance with National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

The weather has also factored into the overall improvement in Virginia’s air quality. Ozone pollution occurs most often in hot weather with stagnant air conditions, so the relatively mild temperatures in Virginia this summer helped make 2009 a record year for good air quality.

Ground-level ozone is a colorless gas formed by the reaction of sunlight with vehicle emissions, gasoline fumes, solvent vapors, and power plant and industrial emissions. It has been linked to short-term health concerns, particularly among children, people with heart or respiratory disease, and older adults.

The national air quality standard for ground-level ozone is 75 parts per billion and “poor air quality” is designated when the ozone concentration exceeds 75 parts per billion during an eight-hour period. EPA will consider an additional reduction to this standard in the coming months.

DEQ monitors and analyzes ground-level ozone data through its statewide monitoring network, which includes monitoring stations across the Commonwealth. More ozone air quality data, daily forecasts, and the location of monitors are available on the DEQ website at www.deq.virginia.gov/airquality/.

Today’s announcement comes as Kaine continues to advance his “Renew Virginia” initiative—an effort to promote renewable energy, create green jobs, and encourage preservation of the environment. During his administration, Kaine has incentivized the production of cleaner energy, dedicated over a billion dollars to Chesapeake Bay cleanup, protected nearly 350,000 acres of open space, and led the effort to promote regional cooperation to combat climate change.

For more information on Renew Virginia, visit www.governor.virginia.gov.

News Desk

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