UT Prof: No Easy Solutions to Knox Air Problems

KNOXVILLE — Solutions to Knoxville’s air quality problems will be long term, a University of Tennessee professor says.

Wayne Davis, professor of civil and environmental engineering, said improving Knoxville’s air quality is a long-term project that will include reducing sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants and improving fuel efficiency in automobiles by using low-sulfur fuels.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that Knox and five other East Tennessee counties were nonattainment areas for fine particle pollution, which consists of particles less than 2.5 microns.

This includes primary particulate matter emitted directly from the source and secondary particulate matter, formed when emitted gases mix with other gases in the atmosphere to form ammonium sulfate.

Primary causes of this type of pollution include transportation sources, such as exhaust, brake wear and tire wear, and electricity generating utilities, such as power plants which release sulfur dioxide.

“East Tennessee’s particulate matter is 40 to 50 percent sulfate based,” Davis said. “This originates from the burning of fossil fuels throughout the eastern U.S., not just the TVA plant here in East Tennessee.

“We live in an area that is prone to bad air quality,” he said. “We are in a valley between the Cumberland Plateau and the Appalachian mountains, which makes improving air quality more difficult that in other places.”

Davis said that high levels of air pollution cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems. Asthmatics are especially prone to difficulties, although anyone can develop them.

“Ideally we would like to be well below the standard for particulate matter and ozone, and right now we are 10 to 20 percent above it,” Davis said.

EPA named all or parts of 225 counties in 20 states, plus the District of Columbia, to the nonattainment list.

EPA officials said they considered a variety of factors in the community evaluations including emissions, populations and commuting patterns.

State and local officials have three years to come up with a plan to address fine particle pollution and until 2010 to meet the new standard, though Knox County may ask for an extension.

All of Knox, Anderson, Blount, Loudon and Hamilton counties were named to EPA’s list as well as a portion of Roane County.