Area leaders are pointing out the lack of Code Red days this year as evidence of significant progress in improving air quality in metropolitan Washington. During Wednesday’s MD-DC-VA summit, Virginia Governor Mark Warner called the Code Red-free summer “a major milestone for the region.”
A summary of the season’s air quality days from the beginning of May through mid-September indicates that the 2005 season was the first in the Washington region without ozone pollution levels reaching unhealthy, Code Red levels as determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“We’re seeing undeniable progress at making dirty air an urban legend. While we must keep up the focused effort, a hot Washington summer without Code Red is truly a breath of fresh air,” said Fairfax County Supervisor Dana Kauffman, who serves as Chair of the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee.
Why? Weather wasn’t the reason.
This summer was typical of hot summers when ozone levels often reach unhealthy levels, but despite the high temperatures, pollution levels were lower than previous years.
“The fact that there were no Code Red days this year demonstrates that the programs we have adopted are working” said Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director Robert Burnley.
The region’s long list of programs to clean the air includes controls on power plants, cleaner motor vehicle standards and low sulfur gasoline, state programs such as vehicle inspection and maintenance and reformulation of paints, and local measures such as gas can replacement and regional wind power purchases.
In addition, Kendl Philbrick, Secretary of the Maryland Department of Environment, said the region benefited from reduced levels of pollution being carried into the Washington region from the Midwest. According to Philbrick, pollution coming into the region from the Midwest was noticeably lower this year due to two years of power plant controls being implemented by Midwestern states.
Kauffman says the region deserves credit for the improvement. He said the absence of Code Red days this summer means that the region met its goals set for 2005 in its air quality plan, also known as the State Implementation Plan (SIP).
“As a region, the states and local governments adopted programs to reduce ozone pollution below the unhealthy level by 2005 and this summer proves that collectively we have reached an important goal. We have met the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone in 2005. This positions the region well as we now focus on working together to meet the newer and more challenging EPA ozone and particulate standards by 2010. We are all proud of our collective progress,” said Kauffman.
“When one considers the region’s growth over the past decade and a half, the progress towards cleaning the region’s air is even more impressive, noted Dr. Gregg Pane, Director, D.C. Department of Health. The improvements in air quality over the past fifteen years occurred at a time when the region’s household population increased by 28 percent and the number of vehicles and time traveled increased by 25 percent.
A Note of Caution
Despite the lower pollution levels this year, the region still has challenges ahead. EPA replaced the previous ozone standard with a tougher ozone standard in 2004 and added a new fine particle standard. Even as officials of the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee celebrate this summer’s achievement, they are discussing new programs to reduce ozone and fine particles by the region’s next deadline in 2010.
For more information on COG’s air program, please visit https://www.mwcog.org/environment/planning-areas/air-quality/