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Healthy Air Employer: Facts & Figures

The United States Environmental Protection Agency holds the responsibility for determining whether or not a region of the country has attained or has not attained federal standards of health for air quality. The US EPA assigns the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources the responsibility to manage air quality laws and regulations at the state level and state legislation enables Wisconsin to implement federal law. While the DNR monitors air quality scientifically, and reports monitoring data to the federal EPA, the EPA designates regions within the state that are in attainment or non-attainment status based on that data. Non-attainment status triggers federal regulations to bring the region back into attainment of air quality standards.

At present, Dane County is in attainment for ground level ozone pollution, but is at risk of exceeding that standard from time to time. The County is also at risk of non-attainment status for fine particle air pollution. That means that on many days each year, air pollution exceeds healthy levels. It also means that the County could face serious penalties if the air quality isn’t improved.

Ground-level ozone is not a primary pollutant, meaning it does not come directly from a source such as smokestacks or tailpipes. Rather, it is created when two primary pollutants—oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are “cooked” by sunlight and high temperatures. This means that we are most likely to see high ozone levels during the hot spring and summer months, May 1 – September 30 each year. Wisconsin DNR and the US EPA estimate that emissions from cars and trucks are responsible for more than half of ozone air pollution in Dane County.

Exposure to high ozone levels is particularly hazardous to children, the elderly, and those with respiratory conditions such as asthma. Ozone can also cause breathing difficulties and reduce lung function in healthy adults.

Another pollutant of concern is particle pollution. While EPA has not yet designated Dane County as a nonattainment area for particle pollution, it is a critical concern. The US EPA will make a determination on December 18, 2008 that is likely to identify Dane County as nonattainment.

Particle pollution causes many of the same health effects as ground-level ozone, and has also been linked to cardiac episodes and even mortality. Further, while ozone exceedances are most likely to occur during the hot summer months, particle pollution levels can be high at any time of the year. Dane County Clean Air Coalition declares Clean Air Action Days year-round to alert the community about both ozone and fine particle pollution and to prompt citizen action to reduce the chances of our community exceeding the federal health standards.

The US EPA developed the Air Quality Index as a tool for reporting air quality levels to the public. Information about local air quality and the AQI is available on this Web site’s home page, on the Wisconsin DNR’s Air Quality Web site, and on the US EPA Web site. Residents and employers can sign up to receive Air Quality notifications from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Dane County Clean Air Coalition urges all local employers to join Dane County’s Healthy Air Employer Network and to institute in-house programs that reduce air pollution from operations, facilities and employee commuting.