Mercer air quality deemed 'good,' but state, feds assessing pollutant

July 13, 2004|ANN R. HARNEY

HARRODSBURG - The good news is the quality of the air in Mercer County is good.

"I'd bet my last dollar on it," said John Lyons, director of the state Division for Air Quality of the Department for Environmental Protection. "There are no indications the air quality in Mercer County is a problem at all."

That encouraging statement came at a meeting with elected officials and representatives of business and industry in Harrodsburg and Mercer County. The meeting took place Monday afternoon at the offices of Mercer County Fiscal Court.

While Lyons and other state officials hold that opinion, there is acknowledgment that Kentucky Utilities' E.W. Brown electric power generating plant on Herrington Lake may generate a newly identified pollutant of fine particulate matter called PM2.5.


PM2.5 may be produced by the plant, but it affects areas downwind, which does not include Mercer County. If the plant generates the pollutant, the federal Environmental Protection Agency could designate the entire county as "not in attainment," Lyons said.

Lona M. Brewer, also of the Division for Air Quality, said in most cases the pollutant is seldom detected at the point of emission. Division officials have a goal of having no areas in the region identified by EPA as non-attainment.

That would be the best result of the studies now being done by the state. However, if that is not possible, Lyons said he hopes the plant could be separated from the rest of the county as an area of non-attainment.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to designate the whole county," Lyons said. He said Brewer and John Gowins, who also attended the meeting, will have to make a complete study to determine actions to be taken if the entire county is designated.

"The lesser of two evils is a partial county designation," Lyons said. Because the government is not even sure the KU plant is a source of PM2.5, "We're not going to go to KU to make them put scrubbers on their smoke stacks." In the past, KU has improved its emissions of other pollutants, Lyons said.

No plans to monitor Mercer County

All of this information has come without monitoring Mercer County. Brewer said monitoring is very expensive and because officials don't believe the air quality is bad, the state has no plans to monitor Mercer County.

Nevertheless, Lyons said the designations for counties and areas in the state will not be released by EPA until after the first of next year and Kentucky is not alone.

"All states are in the same mode, trying to explain issues while not really knowing what the issues are," Lyons said. Brewer said, "EPA has not released implementation guidelines."

"It's a double-edged sword," Lyons said about monitoring for PM2.5. There is a monitor in Madison County and the results have been within the acceptable range. However, officials believe the county produces pollutants that end up in adjacent counties and may cost Madison if it is determined that county is the culprit for producing the pollutant.

Mercer County Judge-Executive John Trisler asked what he should tell people who live in the Burgin and Herrington Lake area of the county. He said a person with breathing problems came to him recently expressing concern about the impact of the plant on his health.

"It's tough for us to determine the health effects," Lyons said. "A lot of people live downwind of the power plant." He also said, "We don't want to raise the alarm. That's the last thing we want to do."

Earl Motzer, CEO of James B. Haggin Memorial Hospital, asked if there is anything people in Mercer County should be doing to improve the air quality. "There is nothing specific we can recommend you do in this county," Lyons told Motzer. The only concrete action citizens might take is to eliminate or cut back on open burning. "We'll try to make a list of what other communities are doing," Lyons said. He said his division must submit reports to EPA by Sept. 1, and he will ask for a sit-down meeting with EPA officials.

Trisler said the issue of air quality is an emotional one and it is very important that Mercer County residents know that air quality in the county is good. Lyons said that if officials here think it is necessary, he and other state officials will be glad to come back and explain the situation to residents.

Lyons offered another piece of good news:

"The levels of PM2.5 are down since we started monitoring it in 1999," he said and he added that governmental bodies don't monitor sulfur dioxide and lead, "because they are not issues anymore. We fail to look at the accomplishments we've made in the last 30 years to improve air quality."

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