BY O.J. EARLY
Are allergies bothering you less this summer?
If so, there's a reason, based on data from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC): according to TDEC, air quality in Northeast Tennessee is improving.
"So far in the summer of 2013, air quality has been better in comparison with 2011 and 2012," said Shannon Ashford, a TDEC spokeswoman in Nashville.
In 2011 and 2012, Tennessee saw multiple days that exceeded a clean-air marker set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.)
The measure -- the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQ) -- hasn't been surpassed at all this summer in either East Tennessee or the state, TDEC records show.
(Note: A primary way that TDEC measures air quality is through ozone monitoring. Greene County itself has no official ozone monitoring sites, Ashford said, with the closest sites in neighboring Sullivan County.
(Those sites were used in researching this news article.)
A big reason for the local air quality improvement?
An excess amount of rain.
"A lot of it [air quality improvement] is because of all this rainfall we've had," said Sam Roberts, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Morristown. "We are having a pretty good flow."
NWS AIR QUALITY LEVELS
The NWS in Morristown issues daily a forecast for air quality, assigning a color for the six possible levels of health concern expected for that day.
Yellow is given for a moderate health risk, for example, and orange is issued if allergy-sensitive groups are more at risk.
"During summertime it's not uncommon to see a lot of our area in that yellow or orange," Roberts said.
The weather service issues alerts if air quality is considered unhealthy.
Greene County has not had any air-related alerts this summer -- something that is "uncommon" for our area, Roberts said.
"We've managed to stay out of the stagnant pattern," Roberts said. "That has probably led to better air conditions overall."
Still, East Tennessee's air quality improvement isn't just a result of more-than-normal rainfall, said Ashford, the TDEC spokeswoman.
"Continued emission reduction and control efforts at both the state and federal levels, including the repowering of large fossil-fueled steam plants in East Tennessee and the local emission-control efforts through AIRNOW and various Action Day programs active in East Tennessee, are also helping to reduce emissions and play a significant role in the reduction of pollutant levels across the state," Ashford said.
QUALITY IN 2011, 2012
Tennessee, however, hasn't always been known for quality air.
In 2012, Knox, Blount and Anderson counties didn't meet EPA air-quality standards and were placed on a "non-attainment status," the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.
Knox County has made major improvements in air quality in 2013, the newspaper reported in late June.
In 2011, Tennessee saw 12 days when the NAAQ standard was exceeded, based on TDEC records.
Air quality got worse the next year. In 2012, the Volunteer State was above the EPA-marker 17 times, TDEC records show.
"We can say that 2012 is considered by all to be an extraordinary year in both temperature and, to a lesser extent, rainfall," Ashford said.
"Elevated temperature is conducive to ozone formation, and lack of rainfall can contribute to the buildup of precursor emissions locally and regionally and enhance the chance of elevated levels of ozone being generated in those areas," she said.
In Northeast Tennessee, the NAAQ standard was surpassed once in 2011 and four times in 2012, according to TDEC.