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NJ DEPT. OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION NEWS RELEASE
RELEASE: 9/9/98
98/112
CONTACT: Amy Collings or Elaine Makatura
609-984-1795 or 609-292-2994

DEP IMPROVES PUBLIC OUTREACH, POLLUTION CONTROLS IN LIGHT OF NEW HEALTH STANDARDS

[Find out today's Air Quality!] State Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Shinn today outlined initiatives to more effectively warn the public when ozone air pollution reaches unhealthful levels.

"The actions we've taken over the years to reduce ozone levels have worked, but we have much more work to do to meet the stringent, health-based standard for ground level ozone that the Environmental Protection Agency adopted last year with the strong support of Governor Whitman," Shinn said. "Making further reductions in ozone pollution will require emission reductions from power plants upwind of New Jersey, and those reductions are affordable using available technology. In the meantime, we're making every effort to alert the public so they can take protective measures when smog levels are unhealthy."

The EPA last summer adopted a tougher standard for ozone after dozens of health studies found that breathing relatively low levels of ozone for a prolonged time is harmful to health. Governor Whitman provided strong national leadership by endorsing the new health standard.

Using the new standard - no more than 80 parts per billion (ppb) of ozone over an eight-hour period - the state Department of Environmental Protection determined the air in New Jersey was unhealthy 42 times so far this summer. By contrast, there were just four violations this year when the regulatory standard - a maximum of 120 ppb of ozone over a one-hour period - is used.

Ozone is formed when two types of pollutants - volatile organic compounds, such as gasoline fumes, and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) created by burning fossil fuels - combine in the atmosphere on hot, sunny summer days. Ozone is a serious health problem for children, the elderly and persons suffering respiratory or health problems. Even otherwise healthy persons who work or exercise outdoors during high ozone days are also at risk.

Presently, DEP routinely faxes the morning ozone forecasts and afternoon updates to tri-state area newspapers, wire services and TV and radio stations. New Jersey provides ozone forecasts to the news media seven days a week. DEP also maintains a toll-free hotline residents can call to hear a tape recorded air quality forecast each weekday. The forecast is updated each afternoon. The hotline number is 1-800-782-0160. Since the summer of 1997, DEP has issued advisories based on the new health-based standard.

Two initiatives are underway to further improve public notification. A "hot button" has been added to the DEP web page that will connect directly to air quality information. DEP also is creating a "list serve" that anyone with an e-mail account can join. Everyone on the list serve will automatically receive an e-mail notification when ozone levels are expected to exceed the health standard. The list serve will be operational by next April, which is the official start of the ozone season.

"By using the Internet, we will expand our ability to notify those specific persons, such as parents of children with asthma or staff at day care centers or senior citizen centers, who need to know when air quality is unhealthful," Shinn said. "I'm certain we have the right mix of policies and technologies to some day make these warnings unnecessary. Until then, we have an obligation to alert the public to the health risks of air pollution."

DEP's Bureau of Air Monitoring provides a comprehensive and easy-to-read ozone information web page. Among the web site's features are color-coded maps that indicate where ozone levels are the lowest and highest, hourly read-outs from the state's network of air monitoring stations, charts that provide historic data on ozone measurements at each air monitoring station dating back to 1985, and links to other sources of ozone information including the EPA web site. The DEP web page is at www.state.nj.us/dep/airmon/index/html

DEP also participates in the Ozone Action Partnership, a group of more than 200 agencies, businesses and organizations that notifies their employees when unhealthy levels of ozone are forecast. This enables them to take individual actions to reduce exposure to ozone and help reduce ozone levels as well, such as carpooling.

DEP's primary ozone reduction initiatives include efforts to reduce NOx. New Jersey has proposed tighter NOx controls beyond those required by EPA. EPA called for NOx reductions in 22 eastern and midwestern states after a regional committee, chaired by Commissioner Shinn, proved emissions from those states are degrading air quality in other states. Shinn also was instrumental in developing an agreement among regional states to address the NOx problem.

When implemented, New Jersey's NOx rule will be among the toughest in the nation, and will reduce NOx emissions from coal power plants and other large, industrial burners by more than 80 percent below 1990 levels. The state's NOx emission levels will drop from more than 45,000 tons per year in 1990 down to about 8,200 tons a year by 2003.

Other state initiatives to reduce ozone levels include a Clean Fleets Program to encourage the use of fleet vehicles that run on cleaner fuels; the enhanced auto inspection program, and a Climate Change Initiative that calls for a 3.5 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in New Jersey by 2005.

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