Pinedale, Wyo. — The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2013” report, released on Wednesday, finds that while air quality might be improving nationwide the opposite was seen in Wyoming.
The lung association, which works to prevent lung disease and promote healthy air, and which grades counties annually on their air quality, gave Wyoming’s Sublette County an “F” for ozone pollution, also known as smog.
“If you live in Sublette County, the air you breathe may put your health at risk,” the organization’s report warns.
Wyoming’s Fremont County also received a poor grade for ozone pollution — a “D” — because it had several days of high ozone levels in the previous year. “If you live in Fremont County, the air you breathe needs your support,” the America Lung Association urges.
Large-scale oil and gas drilling is a significant source of ozone pollution in Wyoming. The Pinedale area has been plagued with dangerous levels of wintertime ozone for several years.
In March, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality announced its strategy to address air pollution in the Pinedale area based in large part on consensus recommendations from a citizens advisory task force. The department brought a broad group of local citizens, elected officials, oil and gas industry and environmental representatives together to recommend ways to reduce the harmful ozone.
“This report is a sharp reminder that Pinedale’s ozone problem is a public health issue that can and should be corrected as soon as possible,” said Bruce Pendery with the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “Anything less than swift action unnecessarily puts Wyoming citizens at risk.”
Ozone is a toxic air pollutant widely known to cause a host of respiratory problems, even in relatively low concentrations. Smog contributes to serious health problems, including decreased lung function and premature mortality. Children, the elderly, Americans with existing lung and heart issues, and those who are active outside are especially vulnerable.
These facts were recently borne out by a scientific study conducted by the Wyoming Department of Health that showed more Sublette County residents seek medical help for respiratory ailments on days with higher ozone pollution levels.
“The unhealthy smog pollution that we have seen in the Upper Green River Basin in recent years — and that we’re now seeing east of the Wind River Range in Fremont County — must be addressed to ensure public health is protected,” said Pendery.
Pendery was a member of the citizens’ advisory task force.
“The state’s move to pursue all 10 of the task force’s recommendations signals its commitment to this effort — but, as they say, the devil will be in the details. It’s essential that the DEQ implement these steps as quickly as possible,” Pendery said.
“The task force’s proposals – especially efforts to eliminate gas leaks from equipment – are also actions that make economic sense,” said Jon Goldstein, senior energy policy manager with the Environmental Defense Fund.
“In the natural gas business, a leak means less product to sell and a hit to the bottom line,” Goldstein said. “And business as usual is not an option here. Recent emissions studies show that leaky equipment is a large source of local pollution. Detecting and fixing these leaks makes sense from both a public health and an economic perspective.”
Since the EPA has formally designated the Upper Green River Basin in “nonattainment” with the national ozone standard, if the state does not bring the area back into compliance with this standard by the end of 2015, even more significant pollution controls could be required by the Clean Air Act.
“Local citizens have suffered for too long from ozone problems that threaten public health and the environment and that are bad for economic development,” Pendery said. “We need the DEQ to follow through on its promises as quickly as possible. And we hope that all Wyoming citizens will join us in pushing the state to make these improvements.”
Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading national nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. See twitter.com/EDFEnergyEX; facebook.com/EnvDefenseFund; and http://blogs.edf.org/texasenergyexchange/.
The Wyoming Outdoor Council (wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org) is Wyoming’s oldest independent conservation organization. The Wyoming Outdoor Council’s mission is to protect Wyoming’s environment and quality of life for future generations.