The Iowa Department of Natural Resources says there have been 22 times this year where the air in the state has exceeded the national air quality limits set by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. D.N.R. air quality specialist, Sean Fitzsimmons, says most of the problems with dirty particles in the air came in the eastern part of the state.
Fitzsimmons says the E.P.A. set the health standard for particles in the air at 35 micrograms per cubic meter. He says if you get too many readings where the air exceeds that standard, you can be put into "non-attainment", which means there will be special permitting requirements to try and keep the levels down. He says it would make it tougher on power plants and industrial facilities that want to make changes.
Fitzsimmons says the permits are harder to get, and while it doesn’t keep them from getting permits, they might have to use emission offsets if they want to put in a new source of emissions. Or meet more stringent requirements on the new sources of emissions. Fitzsimmons says monitors in Muscatine and Davenport have had the most readings that went above the limit.
He says eastern Iowa is in the industrial midwest airshed, where dirty air can blow in from more industrialized areas such as Chicago and the Ohio River Valley. Fitzsimmons says on the 23rd and 24th of February, there was a stagnation of the air that would put any air monitors in eastern Iowa over the limit.
Fitzsimmons says a federal plan to limit that dirty air that blows into Iowa promised to help keep the state’s air cleaner — but that plan is now stalled in the court system. Fitzsimmons says the program was supposed to limit the levels of emissions in the industrial midwest and eastern U.S. to bring down the background levels of emissions, but now the program is held up in legal reviews. He says it’s hard to see how those background levels will come down without the regional control program.
Without the regional controls Fitzsimmons says Iowa’s air quality will continue to stay in the same pattern. He says as you go west, the air gets cleaner, and as you go east, the air gets dirtier. The state says overall, only small areas of some of the eastern Iowa counties fall short of the E.P.A. standard for clean air. The complete report is available on the D.N.R’s website in the air quality section.