New air monitoring system turns up pollution problem

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - A new air-monitoring system indicates that pollution from nearly invisible soot is a bigger problem than expected.
The Akron-Canton area has been under an advisory since midweek for the tiniest pollution particles, and the high pollutant levels could remain through the weekend, unless rains wash them from the air, said Robert Pattison, Canton's health commissioner.
"It is more than a little unusual," Pattison said. "Normally, ozone is a summer problem. ... But now particulate is a problem, too."
So-called fine particulate pollution comes from coal-burning power plants, industry smokestacks, diesel-powered vehicles and gasoline-fueled cars.
It's possible that the soot may have been bad for years and the new monitoring system is uncovering the problem, said Lynn Malcolm of the Akron Regional Air Quality Management District, which covers Summit, Portage and Medina counties.
In 1997, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established limits on the tiny particles, which authorities say can travel deeper into lungs when inhaled. Larger soot already was being regulated under the federal Clean Air Act.
To comply with the new limits, the Akron air quality district updated its monitoring system in the spring.

A reading for particulate above 100 triggers an advisory for the elderly, children and people with respiratory and heart conditions. After triggering the alert twice this summer, Akron and Canton both topped the threshold on Thursday and Friday.

Other Ohio cities are getting the same results, said Ohio Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Bill Spires.
But the situation might not be as alarming as it sounds because the U.S. EPA built an extra cushion in the advisories as a precaution to protect human health, by making them stricter than federal standards, Spires said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)