By Briana Vannozzi
New Jersey has cleaned up its act since the dog days of the 1970s when ground-level ozone, also known as smog, was at its highest. New clean energy programs and clean air standards are to thank, but as panelists at today’s Clean Air Council hearing emphasized, it takes more than just one state’s changes to make a difference.
“The more we do as a region to reduce emissions from a variety of sources — New Jersey’s biggest is automobile — the greater the probability we’ll continue our stride for achieving a standard,” said Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Director of Exposure Science Paul J. Lioy.
In New Jersey, that culprit continues to be motor vehicles. Estimates show the number of vehicle miles driven in and around the state have increased substantially — upwards of 200 million miles a day.
“When we have emissions coming from our automobiles, they go somewhere. They don’t just go out to sea, they go to Connecticut and they go to Long Island,” Lioy said.
Transport ozone affects New Jersey too. As the most densely populated state in the nation, we’re also located downwind from several states where state DEP officials say harmful emissions aren’t adequately controlled.
“EPA has also failed to hold upwind states legally accountable for their failure to comply to meet obligations under the Clean Air Act,” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin.
Martin lambasted the federal EPA for delaying implementation of current ozone standards due to litigation. New requirements will look for reductions at around 10 to 15 percent.
Representatives from bordering states, like Maryland, were on hand to talk about new control methods. They’ve reduced nitrogen oxide compounds by about 70 percent.
“Maryland has been very aggressive in trying to work with other states as far west as Indiana and Kentucky and as far south as North Carolina because we do think they contribute to our problems in Maryland and also in New Jersey,” said Maryland Department of Environment Air Director George Tad Aburn.
One item almost everyone could agree on — the known health effects from smog.
“We think that ozone when people inhale it, causes effects in the lungs but then those effects can hit the rest of the body as well,” said Dr. Robert Laumbach, associate professor of environmental and occupational medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
He’s speaking beyond the scope of respiratory and pulmonary issues. New research shows possible decreases in cognitive function.
“Neurodegenerative diseases, like potentially Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s,” he said.
Economic impacts to both control and treat the harmful effects are also on the rise.
“The costs of the ozone even at present levels are in the billions of dollars throughout the United States and it’s costly to impose further controls in order to reduce ozone levels,” Laumbach said.
Even with all the improvements made by New Jersey and the northeast in particular, industry experts here are calling on the EPA for more federal oversight and control to get the rest of the country to keep up.