High levels of fine particle pollution in the Quad-Cities region will trigger a chain of events that could force reductions in emissions from industry, transportation and other sources, an Iowa Department of Natural Resources spokesman said.

That could mean limits on new or existing industries to expand or limits on new transportation projects that could spew more particulate pollution into the air, said Jim McGraw, environmental program supervisor for the DNR.

But some are investigating a challenge to any finding that particulate levels are high enough to justify clamping down on economic or transportation development, said Gena McCollough, planning director for the Bi-State Regional Commission. McCollough has been warning area officials about the implications of requirements to cut air pollution in the region.

“We were aware that this was coming,” McCollough said of the possibility of requirements to lower pollution levels to meet federal Environmental Protection Agency standards. “We question the location of the Davenport monitoring station. It is near Blackhawk Foundry, a point source of emissions.”

A monitoring station operated by the Illinois EPA on Rock Island Arsenal shows area particulate pollution levels below federal EPA standards for the same period, McCollough noted.

Readings from 2005 though 2007 at the Davenport station at 300 Wellman St. exceeded federal standards for fine particles, McGraw said. It was one of only two places in Iowa that recorded excessive levels of particles. The other one was in Muscatine.

Two other monitoring stations in Davenport, at 10th and Vine streets and at Adams Elementary School, 3029 N. Division St., had readings below federal standards for the three-year period, McGraw said.

The community will have a say in any pollution reduction plan that is eventually put in place, but a solution that cuts emissions for a larger region may be the best option, McGraw said. He noted that readings at the other Davenport locations were within a few points of exceeding federal standards.

“We’re in the process now of trying to figure out how large the area of nonattainment is,” McGraw said. “Once we do that, that will set in motion a number of things.”

The first would be delivery of the boundaries to federal environmental authorities, McGraw said. They would then start a 120-day period for comment and public input. By late December, the boundaries would be set.

The next step would be to create and implement a plan to reduce emissions, McGraw said. The deadline for that would be 2012, but the DNR would try to put it in place as soon as possible after the end of the year to limit the damage to public health caused by the fine particles.

The federal EPA allows no more than 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air of the fine particles that are usually emitted by combustion of fuels of all types. Federal standards for emissions were lowered in 2006 from 65 micrograms to the current level after research resulted in better understanding of effects on health by the pollution.

“The small size … allows (particles) to easily bypass the human body’s respiratory defenses and become lodged deep within the lungs,” according to a DNR news release. “As fine particulate levels rise, people with lung and heart disease, as well as the elderly and children, are the first to experience symptoms. Elevated fine particle levels can also aggravate asthma and decrease lung functions.”

Nancy Mulcahey, president and chief executive officer of the Quad-City Development Group, which tries to attract new business and industry and encourage existing ventures to expand, said any designation that limits the ability of companies to move or grow here would be harmful.

Although questions remain about the reading and its significance, there should be local discussions to help people understand what the ramifications are, Mulcahey said. The DNR has tentatively scheduled a meeting in the Quad-Cities for April 29.

“Let’s not over-react until we know what we’re dealing with,” she said.

Tom Saul can be contacted at (563) 383-2453 or tsaul@qctimes.com.

 Pollution levels

One of three monitoring sites in Davenport found higher than acceptable levels of fine particulate pollution from 2005 through 2007, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Federal Environmental Protection Agency standards allow 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The following are readings for pollution found at all three Davenport sites:

n 37 micrograms per cubic meter, monitored at 300 Wellman St.

n 31 micrograms per cubic meter, monitored at 10th and Vine streets.

n 32 micrograms per cubic meter, monitored at Adams Elementary, 3029 N. Division St.

— Source: Iowa DNR

What happens next

Nonattainment of particulate pollution standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency at a monitoring station in Davenport will kick off a chain of events that could result in potentially expensive requirements to reduce such emissions by industry, transportation and other sources.

By May 31 — Iowa Department of Natural Resources determines boundaries for the nonattainment area.

By July 1 — Federal EPA certifies that DNR monitoring data is accurate.

By July 31 — Federal EPA accepts boundary designations and starts 120-day public comment period.

By Dec. 31 — Boundaries for nonattainment area are completed.

2012 — Deadline for creation and implementation of a plan to lower particulate pollution in the designated area to meet EPA standards.

Source: Iowa DNR