Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Air quality grades depend on who’s doing testing

By JOSH GARVEY
Capital News Service

LANSING – Unlike neighboring states, Michigan doesn’t require inspections of vehicle emissions and has no plans to start because its air quality meets ozone standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) .

Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Illinois have counties that require such tests because they fail to meet the EPA standard for maximum ozone levels in the air. Testing by the federal agency determines the need for vehicle tests on a county by county basis.

Breathing ozone can lead to lung problems, including worsened asthma and, over time, scarring of the lungs.

Doug Aburano, an EPA environmental engineer in Chicago, said that Detroit and other parts of the state didn’t meet the EPA’s previous standard but the city “has really cleaned up its act.”

Not everyone is satisfied with current ozone levels in the state, even if they’re acceptable to the EPA. The American Lung Association releases annual State of the Air grades for quality in different counties throughout the country. Last year, all 22 Michigan counties that received a grade got an “F.”

“Emissions testing is something we would definitely support,” said Patricia Volz, senior director of communications for the association’s Midland States region based in Norwalk, Ohio. “Many states have opted to use vehicle emission testing as a way to remove problem vehicles from the roadway and it may be a good solution for Michigan.”

The association isn’t currently promoting legislation to require testing in Michigan because of insufficient financial resources to tackle every issue it would like to, Volz said.

Robert McCann of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment (DNRE) said there was a testing program in Southeast Michigan until the mid-to-late 1990s. It was discontinued when the state met the federal ozone standards at the time.

“At this point we don’t see a need for the test,” he said.

The EPA’s standards are based on ozone levels low to the ground. It’s formed when gases from car exhaust and other sources interact with organic chemicals such as methane while exposed to sunlight.

If ozone levels worsen in an area, EPA guidelines require more programs to control the pollutant.

When Michigan was first tested under current standards in 2004, many counties, including Wayne, Allegan, Kalamazoo and Livingston, were listed as “marginal.” Today, all counties except Allegan comply with the ozone standard, the EPA’s Aburano said.

Allegan wants the EPA to raise its ranking from “marginal” to “in attainment.”

Aburano said his agency is likely to do so, based on the latest test results.

The DNRE’s McCann said that part of the reason for Michigan’s ozone improvement is state residents’ habit of buying new cars.

“The reality is that Michigan tends to have one of the newest car fleets on the road,” he said. “Those cars have lower emissions and different types of control equipment that other states with older fleets might not have.”

Volz of the lung association agreed that most Michigan vehicles would easily pass an emissions test, but that doesn’t mean there would be no value in testing.

“It’s the vehicles that don’t pass the test that are a concern and need to be fixed to reduce their emission impact on the air that people breathe,” she said.

McCann noted that vehicle testing was unpopular when it was required, and provided little benefit.

“The way it was set up at the time, it exempted most cars that probably would have failed the test to begin with,” he said. “If your car was over a certain age, you probably didn’t have to get the test done.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Filed under: Environment

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