State searches for ways to reduce solo commutes

September 16, 1992|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

WESTMINSTER -- Maryland environmental officials are asking county businesses with 100 or more employees for input on a new law that requires companies to reduce the number of workers commuting alone.

"We're begging for comments at this point," Leslie E. Sipes, chief of the Division of Operations and Quality Assurance at the Maryland Department of the Environment, said yesterday.

"You still have the power to make changes," said Hazel Heeren, commuter transportation coordinator for the Greater BWI Commuter Transportation Center.

Yesterday, the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce and the county sponsored a two-hour seminar on the federal Clean Air Act, which requires businesses to reduce air pollution by November 1996. About 40 people attended the meeting at the Comfort Inn Conference Center.

To implement the 1990 Clean Air Act, the state has written draft regulations that are scheduled to be adopted Nov. 15, Ms. Sipes said.

The Clean Air Act affects companies with 100 or more employees in Baltimore and six metropolitan counties with "severe" and "extreme" ozone levels. It would require them to increase by 25 percent the average occupancy of vehicles driven by employees reporting to work between 6 and 10 a.m., Monday through Friday.

Carroll has about 35 companies with 100 or more employees, said Darlene DeMario, the county's commuter transportation coordinator.

Data collected last year show that Carroll residents are exposed to substandard air quality for 11 hours a day. Ozone air pollution in the county reaches a peak of slightly above 0.12 parts per million (ppm) at 5 p.m.

Studies have shown that ozone levels as low as 0.08 ppm may affect a person's lungs at certain exposure and exercise levels, said Gail G. Weinmann, an associate professor in the School of Hygiene and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.

People doing physical work outdoors for eight hours when the ozone level is at 0.08 ppm might find it harder to take deep breaths, and their lungs might become inflamed, she said.

Children at outdoor summer camps might experience the same effects, she said.

Companies with 100 or more employees will be required to submit a "trip reduction plan" to the state by Nov. 15, 1994, Ms. Sipes said.

Employees may car pool, van pool, use mass transportation, walk or ride bikes to work, she said. Companies also will receive credit under the new law for offering on-site day-care facilities, which will save parents car trips, she said.

Other ways to reduce trips include allowing employees to work at home a few days a week, offering flex-time schedules so that workers aren't commuting during peak hours or compressing the workweek into four 10-hour days, she said.

Companies that don't comply with the Clean Air Act could be subject to civil and criminal penalties. Businesses will be audited to ensure compliance, but state officials will rely on company reports for information, Ms. Sipes said.

William Gavin, personnel director at Random House Inc., Carroll's largest private employer with about 1,200 workers, said the company is weighing its options.

Random House has offered reserved parking spaces for car poolers for 15 years, he said.

Mr. Gavin expressed some frustration at the new law.

"It's a classic case of where society has a problem -- and the goal here is worthy -- but the government hasn't been able to solve it, so it's shoved off on business," he said.

For information about the Clean Air Act, call Ms. DeMario at 876-6809.

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