FIRST IN PRINT: Steady improvement, but... Iberville's ozone pollution is second worst in state

Deidre Cruse

In its 2011 State of the Air Report, the American Lung Association again gave Iberville Parish a failing grade for its ozone pollution – but the smog continues to clear.

The parish earned an “A” and was listed as one of the cleanest counties in America for particle pollution, the report said. The parish received a “B” last year.

From 2007 to 2009, Iberville had 30 “orange” ozone days, judged unhealthy for sensitive people and two days, and two “red” days, considered unhealthy for everyone, but no “purple” days, considered very unhealthy, the report said.

Ozone pollution increases risks for people with asthma, chronic bronchitis, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, especially among children, the elderly and those living in poverty.

The parish ranked 30th for high ozone days in the nation, and second worst in the state, with East Baton Rouge Parish taking over the worst spot.

The 2010 report, however, showed Iberville with 51 orange days and two red days, giving it the worst pollution in the state and the 25th worst smog problem in the country. The parish ranked 21st in 2009 and 10th in 2008.

Iberville had a “weighted average” of 11 days of ozone pollution – down from 18 in 2010 and 25.2 in 2009.

As the Lung Association issued its new report, the state Department of Environmental Quality said Louisiana's air quality has been steadily improving, and it has data to show that the entire state meets federal standards for ozone.

For years, the Baton Rouge metropolitan area, including Iberville Parish, has faced U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sanctions for failing to meet the standards in any year.

“While the American Lung Association has graded several areas in Louisiana with an F, it doesn't hide the fact that air quality in Louisiana is the best it's been in decades,” DEQ Secretary Peggy M. Hatch said in a news release. “We have data to show that the entire state meets the one-hour and the 1997 eight-hour ozone standards. That is a monumental achievement for Louisiana, and many people have worked hard to reach this air quality milestone.”

Ozone forms when nitrogen oxide gases (Nox) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from automobile and industrial emissions react in the presence of heat and sunlight, making summer the smoggiest season.

DEQ recently announced an automatic air quality notification service online. People can sign up at www.deq.louisiana.gov/enviroflash. Current air quality information is available at www.deq.louisiana.gov/aqinfo.

Air quality information could be important for people with health problems. The Lung Associated estimated that 705 Iberville children and 1,577 adults suffer from asthma, while 1,076 residents suffer from chronic bronchitis; 521, emphysema; 8,948 cardiovascular disease, and 2,715, diabetes.

Also in Iberville, some 7,500 children under age 18, nearly 4,000 adults 65 or older and 5,875 low-income residents also are risk from ozone pollution, according to the organization.

Among area parishes, the Lung Association gave West Baton Rouge a “C” for smog; the parish had six orange days and a weighted average of 2.0 days of unhealthy air. East Baton Rouge Parish had the state's smoggiest air this year, with 33 orange and one red day, for a weighted average of 11.3 days.

Also receiving “Fs” were Pointe Coupee, with 17 orange days, and a weighted average of 5.7; Ascension, with 13 orange and two red days, for a weighted average of 5.3, and Livingston, with 15 orange days, and a weighted average of 5.0.