Kansas Air Quality

Kansas air quality isn’t as good as you would expect from a state with wide-open spaces. Education and action are still needed to clean the air to meet requirements, and to be healthy for the citizens. We all deserve clean air and good air quality.

The state of Kansas is on the “edge” of attaining compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for levels of six critical air pollutants. Ozone remains a concern.

The six “criteria air pollutants” for which the EPA sets National Ambient Air Quality standards include

  • ozone
  • particulate matter
  • carbon monoxide
  • sulfur dioxide
  • nitrogen dioxide
  • lead

The EPA also lists 188 other Hazardous Air Pollutants that are regulated less rigorously than these six criteria air pollutants.
The Bureau of Air and Radiation in the Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment collects Kansas air quality data from 25 monitoring sites. Different sites monitor different criteria air pollutants. For instance, particulate matter is monitors at 13 sites while ozone is monitored at 9 sites. Thus, complete data on all criteria air pollutants is not available.
In the state’s 2004-2005 report (the latest available), annual average monitoring results were well below EPA standards for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, and carbon monoxide. Average ozone levels were perilously close to the EPA standard but did not exceed it.
Sources of Kansas air pollutants are divided into four categories.

  1. Area sources include small but numerous sources including household solvents, auto refueling emissions, and residential fuel combustion; they accounted for 55 percent of all emissions.
  2. Point sources include large, stationary sources of emissions such as natural gas compressor stations, petroleum refineries, and grain processing and storage facilities; 12 percent of emissions came from point sources.
  3. On-road mobile sources include cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles; 22 percent of emissions came from such sources.
  4. Finally, nonroad mobile sources such as farm tractors, lawnmowers, and train locomotives contributed 11 percent of emissions.

Current Kansas air quality conditions and forecasts are available seasonally and incompletely at the cross-agency AIRNow Web site operated by the federal government. Note that Kansas does not participate in some of AIRNow’s reporting programs.
Local Kansas government is also less than forthcoming with unflattering air quality information. The Kansas City Board of Public Utilities (BPU) obtained an injunction that forced The Kansas City Star newspaper and The Pitch, a local weekly newspaper, to remove from their Web sites stories about potential violations of federal air pollution regulations by BPU upgrades and repair projects at its facilities. The state court of appeals overturned the lower court’s ruling on March 8, 2007.
The Pitch’s reporting on BPU’s potentially illegal operations is back online. The Kansas City Star has republished its reports online too.
Both newspapers report that at least 15 of BPU’s projects may have violated the law, exposing the BPU to thousands of dollars in fines and millions of dollars for mandatory remediation. These costs could delay construction of a new, $600 to $700 million power plant until 2012.
Three members of BPU’s board claims that they never heard of the liability concerns raised in the 2004 liability assessment that was leaked to news media. However, the BPU energy division’s human resources director, Marc Conklin, maintains that the full board was informed of the report. The BPU is now in discussions with the EPA as a result of the news media accounts.
Kansans are advised to closely monitor the state agencies that monitor Kansas air quality, and demand greater accountability and openness. It may take the citizens of Kansas rising up in complaint to get better air quality compliance and results.

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