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September 1, 2014

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Clark County meets federal clean-air goal

Clark County has met a key federal clean-air goal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday.

Clark County's urban core has met the national eight-hour carbon monoxide standard by avoiding any exceedances of the federal standard since 1998, the agency said in a news release.

The EPA's formal certification of Clark County's progress on carbon monoxide -- a colorless, odorless and potentially lethal gas produced by gasoline-burning engines -- means that the region is another step away from potential federal sanctions.

Perhaps more importantly, the region simply has cleaner air than it once did, local and federal officials said.

"This basically documents the fact that we have attained the standard," said Dennis Ransel, planning manager for the Clark County Air Quality and Environmental Management Department.

There are two national carbon monoxide standards, both of which the Las Vegas region now is meeting. The region has not violated the one-hour standard since the 1970s, according to the EPA. The region exceeded the eight-hour standard in the 1980s and 1990s, but has not exceeded the standard since 1998.

In the 1980s, the region averaged 40 exeedances a year, the EPA said.

Ransel and the EPA said those levels of carbon monoxide can be dangerous, especially for vulnerable people such as the very young, very old and people with respiratory problems.

"It's a poisonous gas. It's invisible and can have serious health impacts," Ransel said.

When carbon monoxide enters the bloodstream through the lungs, the gas reduces oxygen delivery to the body's organs and tissues. High levels of the gas in the air can cause loss of visual perception and manual dexterity, fatigue, chest pains and breathing difficulties. Extreme exposures can cause loss of consciousness and death.

Young children, senior citizens, pregnant women, people with heart disease and people with asthma or other lung problems are especially susceptible to the effects of carbon monoxide pollution.

The EPA credited the improvement in air quality to carbon monoxide control measures established by county government and implemented by state and local agencies, including the Clark County Air Quality and Environmental Management Department.

Control measures that are in place include Nevada's motor vehicle inspection program and Clark County's cleaner burning gasoline program.

Other efforts, including a drive to use government fleets that run on alternative fuels and the Regional Transportation Commission's car pool program, Ride Share, have helped, the EPA said.

"State and local agencies have implemented a number of innovative programs to reduce carbon monoxide emissions, and we commend those efforts," said Deborah Jordan, EPA Air Division Director in the Pacific Southwest. "This translates into cleaner air for the more than 1 million residents of the Las Vegas area, and we will continue to work with the state and local agencies to improve local air quality."

Ransel said one of the primary things that has helped clean up the local air is that cars and trucks have become much more fuel efficient and clean-burning over the last three decades thanks to federal fuel emission standards. Local programs such as Southern Nevada smog-check program are needed to keep those new cars running clean, he said.

"Smog tests are critical to ensure that cars are inspected annually, so the cars that are built clean, stay clean," Ransel said.

The job now of the local department is to keep the air clean. Ransel said Clark County now has to draft a 10-year maintenance plan, at which point the EPA will evaluate the plan and can formally redesignate Southern Nevada as in attainment of the federal standard.

Ransel said at that point, the region will have greater flexibility to evaluate and implement new control measures for carbon monoxide.

Karina O'Connor, an EPA environmental engineer, said the region will not risk federal sanctions as long as the existing programs are in place and continue to keep the air clean. The advantage of achieving the formal designation of attainment is that it is an indicator of the best urban air quality, she added.

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