The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the Knox County area meets the 1997 federal ozone standard, which is a major economic and environmental milestone for Knox County and the surrounding area. The EPA compliance area includes the following counties: Knox, Anderson, Blount, Jefferson, Loudon, and Sevier Counties in their entireties, and the portion of Cocke County that falls within the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“This is great news for anyone living in or around Knox County. It not only means cleaner air, but also less federal red tape, which will encourage businesses in this area to expand and new industry to come to Knox and surrounding counties,” Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said. “Many businesses won’t expand or relocate anywhere they cannot get a permit from local air quality officials showing that they are in compliance with EPA standards. We can now begin the process of issuing those permits.”
“We commend local and state officials, as well as the residents of the Knoxville area, who have been working collaboratively with us to reach this milestone," said EPA Regional Administrator Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming. “This accomplishment signifies that the citizens of Knoxville are breathing cleaner air and leading healthier lives. We must continue to work together on a regional and local basis to keep the air clean.”
EPA's decision to redesignate the area to attainment is based on air quality monitoring data through the ozone season. The Knoxville area has made significant progress in improving air quality and has reached an important clean air milestone. Air in the Knoxville area is meeting the health based standard set in 1997, and the area has in place measures and a plan to ensure the area continues to meet this standard.
“Meeting the EPA clean air standard has a positive impact on the lives and health of a million Tennessee residents,” Mayor Burchett said. “The Tennessee Valley’s topography creates a bowl where pollutants get trapped. Overcoming those natural barriers and cleaning up the air without a negative impact on business and economic growth is like walking a tightrope. But we’ve proved it can be done.”
This progress is the result of long, hard work and great cooperation among local, state and federal agencies, private partners and residents in the Knoxville area. The East Tennessee Regional Clean Air Coalition was formed in 2003 to improve air quality by advising and educating area governments, chambers of commerce and the general public on air quality issues. Various initiatives were enacted or supported around the region, including reduced interstate speed limits, truck stop electrification stations, Smart Trips, free bus rides on air alert days, traffic signal synchronization and Intelligent Transportation Systems which use GPS technology to make transport vehicles more efficient. Area industry such as Alcoa, Denso, TVA and others installed air pollution control equipment to reduce emissions. Area chambers of commerce worked very hard to promote the area to less polluting industries.
Ground level ozone is a primary component of smog. Smog is formed when a mixture of air pollutants, primarily nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, are baked in the hot summer sun. These pollutants are released from cars and factories. Though it can occur anytime in the year, it is primarily thought of as a summertime pollutant because sunlight and heat accelerate its formation.
Ozone can penetrate deep into the lungs and make it difficult to breathe as deeply and vigorously as normal. It also can increase asthma attacks and the use of asthma medications. Ozone can irritate the airways, inflame and damage the lining of the lungs and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. Asthmatics, children and older adults are especially at risk. However, even healthy people may suffer adverse health effects when ozone concentrations are high.