AIR in Tulsa, Oklahoma City gets failing grade


Friday, May 25th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The air quality in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties received failing grades in the American Lung Association's second annual ``State of the Air'' report.

The F grades were largely based on how often air pollution levels exceeded the ``unhealthful'' categories on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Air Quality Index for ground-level ozone, or smog.

From 1997 to 1999, Oklahoma County had 13 high ozone days and Tulsa had 30.

Tulsa's geography contributes to its air pollution problems.

``It sits in a valley so it holds air pollution longer,'' said Kay Todd, chief executive officer for the Oklahoma chapter of the American Lung Association. ``The air stays stagnant, especially when you have hot summer days and no wind.''

Oklahoma City fares better being more spread out and windy.

Other counties that received low grades include Cleveland, Latimer and McClain. Each earned a D. Measurements were taken in all 77 counties.

Officials with the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments and the state Department of Environmental Quality called the report unfair and misleading. They said more stringent air quality standards adopted in 1997 contributed to the low marks.

``They changed the way they measured ozone levels,'' said Jerry Church, ACOG spokesman. ``It went from measuring one hour to eight hours. They also lowered the standard.''

Church argues state ozone emissions have not increased. But since the bar has been lowered, Oklahoma now falls in the unhealthy category. Most of Oklahoma County's 13 unhealthy days occurred in 1999.

Officials said they expect next year's report to be even worse.

The American Lung Association's report expresses concern about the health risk to people living in failing counties.

``Someone with asthma can experience significant drops in lung function,'' Todd said. ``And children breathe more through their mouth, which does not filter air like breathing through the nose.''

The American Lung Association is pushing the state to adopt an emission control device on gasoline pumps that would capture fumes that escape when pumping gas.