Report: Area's ozone pollution has lessened, but remains a concern


FARMINGTON — Farmington residents breathe some of the cleanest air in the country in terms of particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association's State of the Air report.

The report, which was released in April, evaluates air quality between 2013 and 2015. The Farmington Metropolitan Statistical Area tied with Cheyenne, Wyo., for having the cleanest air when it comes to particle pollution.

JoAnna Strother, regional director of public policy for American Lung Association, said the report looks at the two main air pollutants — particles and ozone. She said the report does not measure all pollutants.

"People are still at risk, even though this is saying it's the cleanest," she said.

Strother said questions about the region's power plants and air quality led the American Lung Association to evaluate the Farmington data, which is collected from state air quality monitors. Upon examination, the American Lung Association learned that Farmington's air quality is only monitored at one location and only monitored every 12 days. She said that is less frequent than the monitoring in many other areas. And when the air was monitored, unhealthy levels of particle pollution on any given day were not measured.

While the metropolitan statistical area has relatively low levels of particle pollution, the American Lung Association gave Farmington only a C grade when it comes to ozone pollution. Ozone develops when gas emissions from vehicles, power plants and other sources react with sunlight to form smog. The amount of sunlight in the Farmington area may contribute to the high ozone levels, Strother said.

"We kind of have the perfect recipe here in the Southwest," she said, explaining that the warm weather and amount of sunlight could lead to more ozone.

This year's State of the Air report shows that while Farmington still struggles with ozone pollution, its levels of ozone pollution have decreased. Last year's report gave Farmington an F in terms of ozone pollution.

Strother said the 2005 to 2007 State of the Air reports showed the metropolitan statistical area averaging 23.8 days a year of high ozone pollution. During the reporting period for the 2017 State of the Air Report, there was an average of only two days a year of high ozone pollution.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states ozone can cause respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological, developmental and reproductive problems, and may lead to early death.

In a press release, officials of the Sierra Club's Rio Grande Chapter said there are several possible causes of the lower ozone pollution. Those include recently adopted emission controls, including the closure of smoke stacks at Four Corners Power Plant, and oil and gas industry emission controls. The Sierra Club states the replacement of older vehicles with newer, more-efficient models and the upgrade of wood-burning stoves and the weatherization of homes also could be contributing to the lower ozone levels.

"The improved grade is a testament to the Clean Power Plan working," said Mona Blaber, communications coordinator with the Rio Grande Chapter.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

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