Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Ohio EPA announced their proposal to formally redesignate the Ohio portion of the Steubenville area to attainment of the most recent federal air quality standard for sulfur dioxide. Recent air monitoring data show the area now meets the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for sulfur dioxide in addition to all other federal air quality standards set to protect public health.
“Today’s proposal demonstrates important air quality progress in the Steubenville area and would mean improved health outcomes and greater economic opportunity for local residents,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “By working closely with the states, we are helping areas like Steubenville, which contains Opportunity Zones, reach air quality attainment and breathe new life into their local economies.”
“EPA’s effective partnership with the State of Ohio has resulted in cleaner, healthier air in the Steubenville area which is home to more than 38,000 people,” said EPA Region 5 Administrator Cathy Stepp. “Once Steubenville is redesignated, local businesses will face fewer air permitting restrictions, paving the way for the infrastructure investment and economic development that help create jobs. Over the past two years, EPA’s partnerships with states in Region 5 have dramatically improved air quality in ten former non-attainment areas which now meet the national health-based standard.”
“The proposed recognition that the Steubenville area is meeting the national sulfur dioxide standard reflects continuing progress in efforts to improve air quality and the quality of life for Ohio residents,” said Ohio EPA Director Laurie A. Stevenson.
The Steubenville area was designated nonattainment for sulfur dioxide in 2013 based on air monitoring data. Ohio EPA worked collaboratively with EPA and West Virginia to develop strategies for attaining the sulfur dioxide standard, which included establishing new emission limits for a power plant in the area. Three years of recent monitoring data show the Steubenville area is now attaining the 2010 NAAQS for sulfur dioxide. The Steubenville area was already in attainment for all other air pollutants regulated under NAAQS.
EPA is proposing to redesignate the Ohio portion of the Steubenville area to attainment and to approve Ohio’s maintenance plan to ensure that the area will continue to meet the sulfur dioxide standard. Once an area has been redesignated to attainment, businesses seeking air permits face fewer permitting restrictions. The redesignation will not be final until the public has an opportunity to comment on the proposal. If the redesignation is finalized, the Ohio portion of the Steubenville area will be in attainment for all NAAQS. The Ohio portion of the Steubenville area includes the city of Steubenville and four townships in Jefferson County. The entire Steubenville area, which also includes a portion of West Virginia, is meeting the sulfur dioxide NAAQS.
The Steubenville area contains census tracts designated as federal Opportunity Zones. An Opportunity Zone is an economically-distressed community where new investment, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. When possible, EPA is working to target and focus its efforts on Opportunity Zones.
The largest source of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels by power plants and other industrial facilities. Short-term exposure to sulfur dioxide can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult. Children, the elderly, and those who suffer from asthma are particularly sensitive to effects of sulfur dioxide. High concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the air generally also lead to the formation of other sulfur oxides. Sulfur oxides can react with other compounds in the atmosphere to form small particles that contribute to particulate matter pollution, which may penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs and cause additional health problems. Sulfur dioxide and other sulfur oxides can contribute to haze and acid rain, which can harm sensitive ecosystems.
Nationally, average concentrations of sulfur dioxide decreased 79% from 2000 to 2017. All other air pollutants regulated under NAAQS – carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide – have also significantly decreased thanks to the various air quality management and control strategies developed and implemented at the local, state, regional, and national level.