More Bad News for Louisville’s Air Pollution Control District

Last month, a Kentucky Division for Air Quality audit found that years of Louisville’s particulate pollution monitoring data was flawed. Now, that finding has been confirmed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. And in a newly-released second audit, the state has found similar problems with the system the district uses to measure ozone pollution.

The original audit found serious problems with the way district staff handle the particulate pollution—or soot—data it collects, and that some staff members lacked the training to conduct the analysis. The EPA agreed with those findings, and recommended several additional steps. The agency determined that the data from at least January 2012 to February 2013 is invalid, and the problems could go back as far as 2009.

But that’s just for particulate pollution. The Division of Air Quality has been systematically conducting audits of other areas of the Air Pollution Control District, and found the district’s ozone monitoring could also be compromised.

Then-Air Division Director John Lyons (he began a new position today) said the problems the Division found with Louisville’s ozone monitoring were similar to the particulate monitoring issues.

Louisville had a great summer for air quality, as far as ozone was concerned. And Lyons said the new audit’s findings don’t necessarily mean that’s not accurate. “As a matter of fact, we’ve only had three ozone violations in the whole state this year. So I wouldn’t say that at all,” he said. “The monitors are still recording and we do not know the extent of the issues with those until we pore through the data and look at the sort of things we found in the audit.”

Lyons said the problems with both particulate and ozone monitoring are more on the Quality Assurance side, and include issues with the standards the District is supposed to use to make sure equipment is calibrated correctly.

“When it comes to Quality Assurance, if you don’t have that, the data will always be in question to some degree,” he said. “It just depends on how severe the issues are associated with that data handling.”

The state needs three years of data to evaluate whether the Louisville Metro area is in compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.  If the Louisville metro area is designated as “non-attainment”—as it has been in the past, it means that there will be stricter standards for air pollution permits and transportation projects.

Mayor Greg Fischer has called for an independent review of the Air Pollution Control District. Fischer spokesman Chris Poynter said today a firm had been chosen to perform the audit: it’s Columbia, Missouri-based Inquest Environmental, which bid the audit at $37,890. The company has 60 days to complete the work, but Poynter said the city hopes it can be done in 45 days.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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