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Clean Air
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Healthy Ecosystems
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Clean Air

The air throughout the state will be healthy to breathe and air pollutants will not damage our forests, land and water bodies.

Rhode Island's air meets federal clean air standards almost all year. However, despite improvements in the long-term trend, the state's air regularly exceeds the eight-hour standard for ground level ozone (smog) during warmer weather. During the 1999 ozone season, Rhode Island exceeded the eight-hour standard 18 times on 11 days. High ozone levels can cause coughing, chest pain and throat irritation in healthy people and can trigger asthma in sensitive individuals.

In 1997 EPA issued stricter standards for ozone and fine particles. The new eight-hour ozone standard is based on studies showing health impacts from lower levels of ozone over longer periods of time. The new fine particle standard applies to particles 2.5 microns or smaller (a human hair is about 70 microns in diameter) that lodge deeper in the lungs than larger particles and cause illness or even death. Court challenges to the new standards are pending. However, since adverse health effects can occur if the new standards are exceeded, DEM has committed to meeting the new ozone and fine particulate standards by 2007.

Improving Air Quality: Reducing Ozone
DEM's long range plan to meet the standard for ozone targets the largest contributors to the ozone problem and addresses every significant source inside and outside Rhode Island.

Air pollution controls have reduced emissions from Rhode Island industry and utilities to the point where further improvements in this sector would come at high cost for a relatively small amount of improvement. According to EPA studies, fueling and tailpipe emissions from gasoline-powered vehicles are the largest single contributor of NOx, VOCs and air toxics.

Further air quality improvements will depend heavily on measures such as controlling emissions from vehicles and their fuels. Clean air in Rhode Island will also require reducing high VOC and NOx emissions transported to Rhode Island from upwind emissions.

Reducing In-State Ozone Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance Program
The enhanced vehicle inspection and maintenance (I/ M) program and Phase II reformulated gasoline will reduce NOx emissions from on-road vehicles. The strategy of the I/M program is simple: identify the vehicles that are the heavy polluters and have them fixed. In 1999, DEM and the Registry of Motor Vehicles geared up to establish 250 new inspection stations.

Under the program that began operation on January 3, 2000, all gasoline-powered light-duty vehicles less than 25 years old are tested every other year using a dynamometer, a treadmill device that assesses emissions simulating actual driving conditions. Under the old inspection system, cars were tested in idle, which is not an adequate indication of performance for today's computer-controlled cars. In the first two months of operation, 55,367 vehicles were tested on a dynamometer, and 3,370 vehicles, or 6 percent of those inspected, failed emissions tests. Owners must make repairs and retest. When final standards take effect in two years, allowable emissions from late model cars will be reduced by an additional 18 percent for hydrocarbons, 30 percent for carbon monoxide, and 25 percent for nitrous oxides. Up to 20 percent of vehicles could fail emissions tests at that point. When the I/M program is fully implemented, it is expected to bring a greater reduction in air pollution than any other action taken by the State.

In 1999 the Department drafted legislation to reduce NOx from heavy-duty trucks and buses. The program will begin with roadside smoke testing of diesel vehicles, and will require that heavy smoke producers be fixed. Other northeast states are implementing similar requirements.

Cleaner Gasoline
Beginning in January 2000, only phase II reformulated gasoline was available in Rhode Island and most of the northeast. This reformulated gasoline reduces VOCs by 25 percent, NOx by 6 percent and toxic emissions by 32 percent.

Phasing Out MTBE
With public concern mounting over water pollution and health threats from methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a widely used fuel additive, government officials are seeking to fix the problem while maintaining the air quality benefits of the nation's reformulated gasoline program.

In 1999 the Department gave technical support to the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM) study of MTBE. The Department also took part in a task force that developed principles for legislation to use substitutes for MTBE in reformulated gas.

Gas Station Emissions
The Department monitors gas stations to control emissions during fueling of vehicles. During 1999, the Department inspected 263 Stage II recovery systems at gas stations to control emissions of VOCs including benzene, a human carcinogen. DEM also observed 53 compliance tests of newly installed Stage II recovery systems.

Reducing Ozone From Outside Rhode Island
The Department works with 12 other jurisdictions in the northeast to produce cleaner new cars and cleaner power plants throughout the region. In 1999, to address major sources of NOx and VOCs outside the region, many states including Rhode Island petitioned EPA to control power plant emissions in the Midwest. Cases concerning EPA action in response to the petitions are still pending in the courts.

Finding Out About Fine Particulates
In 1999, the Department installed and began operating a new monitoring system to detect particles 2.5 microns or smaller at seven sites throughout the state. Over the next two years, the Department will collect data to determine whether fine particle air pollution exceeds the health-based air quality standard. If so, Rhode Island will need to plan to reduce those levels.

Reducing Air Toxics
Air toxics emissions, which can cause a variety of adverse health effects, are a pervasive problem throughout the state as well as at local "hot spots." The Department's objectives include reducing air toxics by finding and alleviating hot spots and by reducing mercury emissions to zero by 2003. The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) shows a decline for chlorinated solvents and degreasing agents as a result of air regulations requiring additional controls on solvent use.

Zeroing Out Mercury
In 1999, the Department began efforts to reduce mercury emissions to zero by 2003. In Rhode Island, significant sources of mercury are emissions from waste incineration at medical facilities. The Department participates in regional and international efforts to reduce mercury emissions. In 1999, the Department's outreach efforts to Rhode Island Hospital and Miriam Hospital led to their enrollment in the EPA's voluntary challenge to reduce mercury emissions. The Department extended outreach efforts to Zambarano Hospital and audited mercury sources in preparation for the hospital's entrance into the EPA's voluntary mercury challenge. DEM plans to seek similar agreements for the remaining medical waste and sewage sludge incinerators and will revise Air Pollution Control Regulations in the summer of 2000 to include stricter limits on mercury emissions.

Reducing Greenhouse Gases
In 1999 DEM commissioned a greenhouse gas inventory from Brown University as part of its plan to reduce the emissions that lead to the "Greenhouse Effect," the warming of the earth through the buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fuel in sources ranging from power plants to vehicles to lawn mower engines contribute to global warming and other forms of global climate change. Carbon dioxide comprises over 82 percent of the state's greenhouse gas emissions, although methane is also a significant contributor. The DEM/Brown University study indicates that cars, trucks and buses are Rhode Island's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. The next largest sources are electric utility plants and residential sources, primarily home heating. More detailed information is posted on the greenhouse gas website, www.brown.edu/departments/environmental_studies/ghg.

In 2000 the Department will convene a stakeholders group to develop strategies to reduce greenhouse gases. The group will explore opportunities to use existing air quality regulations to reduce traditional air pollutants while also achieving significant greenhouse gas reductions and to promote voluntary energy conservation and use of renewable energy sources.