Cleaner Knox air benefits everyone

1/11/2017

The air in Knoxville is getting cleaner, so much so that the metropolitan area could be scrubbed from the list of the nation’s most polluted communities.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to drop Knox County’s designation as being in “nonattainment” for fine particulates such as soot.

When a county is designated nonattainment, it is required to show progress toward meeting the standards within a three-year period.

Air pollution contributes mightily to health problems, particularly breathing disorders. Nonattainment counties have a difficult time recruiting industry because they cannot increase overall emissions. Some manufacturers will not even consider building or expanding a plant in a nonattainment area.

Knoxville and the surrounding area are making measurable progress, according to state and local officials.

“All of our air quality measurements in Knox County are meeting the federal standards,” Lynn A. Liddington, director of Knox County Air Quality Management, recently told the News Sentinel.

Knox, Anderson, Blount, Loudon and Roane counties are officially in nonattainment for failing to meet the National Ambient Air Quality standard established by the Clean Air Act for fine particles 2.5 micrometers or smaller — a fraction of the diameter of a human hair.

Fine particles are produced through combustion — coal-fired power plants, forest fires, motor vehicles, wood stoves and factories are common sources.

Transportation and coal-fired power plants traditionally have been the biggest contributor of fine particle pollution in the Knoxville area.

Interstates 40 and 75 intersect in Knox County, with Interstate 81 branching off a short distance to the east. Increasingly higher federal fuel efficiency standards have resulted in reductions of tailpipe pollution, a trend that accelerates as newer, more efficient vehicles replace older ones.

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston and Bull Run fossil plants have been major sources of air pollution in the region, but recently installed scrubbers at the Kingston facility have helped slash emissions at what was once the world’s largest coal-fired power plant.

“Between 2000-2015, Bull Run and Kingston have each reduced (sulfur dioxide) emissions by about 98 percent,” TDEC spokeswoman Kim Schofinski said. “Several other facilities have recently converted from coal to natural gas, including the University of Tennessee Steam Plant and Tate & Lyle.”

A public hearing was held at the TDEC Environmental Field Office in Knoxville on Nov. 28 before the Tennessee Air Pollution Control Board as part of the process to get the area redesignated. The board later approved TDEC’s request to the EPA to get the area redesignated, and TDEC submitted that request to EPA on Dec. 20.

Knox, Blount and a portion of Anderson counties also are in nonattainment for ground-level ozone, but the state already has asked for that designation to be removed. The EPA’s ozone decision should come later this year.

TVA’s shift away from coal, industrial conversions to natural gas, cleaner burning fuels and the commitment of policymakers have transformed the skies of East Tennessee. Cleaner air should lead to a healthier population and a more vibrant economy.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org

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