Change is in air for pollution, as deadline nears Firms feel pinch of ozone cleanup

October 17, 1993|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

As the probable price of cleaner air, the Baltimore region can expect a jumble of changes in everything from trash disposal to the type of propellant in your household bug spray.

The reason: Besides cars and commuting, ozone-fighters are pursuing many other sources of the emissions that cause smog. They include landfills, paint, cosmetics, household cleansers and even bakeries, yeast manufacturers and printing shops.

Taxpayers aren't likely to feel a big pinch soon. But some companies may have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars equipment.

It's all part of a federally mandated campaign to combat the ground-level ozone pollution that afflicts Baltimore and its suburbs every summer. Even tougher measures lie ahead.

The Maryland Department of the Environment has put together a laundry list of smog-fighting measures, and the state must submit the plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by Nov. 15.

The proposal must show how the Baltimore region's ozone pollution will be reduced 15 percent by 1996. Public hearings on the plan are scheduled next month.

Auto-related measures, such as the controversial effort to change commuting habits here, are only part of the package.

Hundreds of Baltimore area companies, including auto shops, bakeries, printing firms and plastics manufacturers, would have to take extra steps to reduce emissions. A few targeted businesses figure they might have to pay as much as $500,000 each for equipment.

As for trash disposal, local governments would have to capture and burn off the methane gas that leaks into the air from decomposing waste in landfills and old dumps. Eliminating those emissions could cost $3 to $5 per household, by some estimates, but most residents pay for trash disposal through local taxes.

"We're going to meet the first 15 percent [reduction target] without a great deal of heartache," says Charles Krautler, executive director of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, a regional policy group representing elected city and county officials.

Even the commuting regulations, issued last summer and then withdrawn amid an outcry from businesses, will not be as onerous as many fear, Mr. Krautler says.

The rules are being revised in an effort to reduce red tape and make them more palatable, says Merrilyn Zaw-Mon, the state's air management administrator.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer complained last week that Baltimore businesses would be unfairly saddled with the costs of getting employees to car pool or take public transit, while nearby Washington does not have to impose commuting restrictions.

The overall state plan due Nov. 15 is only the first shoe to drop.

By November 1994, the state must give the EPA a far more ambitious plan for eliminating unhealthful levels of ozone pollution in the Baltimore area by the year 2005. That could require reductions of ozone-forming emissions of 57 percent to 80 percent, according to one study. Maryland environmental officials acknowledge they have not yet figured out how -- or even if -- the emissions can be curtailed that much.

"We can't lose sight of the fact that we have to make continuing reductions," Mr. Krautler says, "and that's going to get harder."

On 16 days this summer, ozone reached unhealthful levels in Maryland. The Baltimore area -- the city and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties -- has the sixth-highest ozone levels of any urban area in the country, according to the EPA.

Reduction plans also must be submitted for Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne's counties.

Ozone can cause breathing problems for many people. It forms when hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides from autos, power plants and many other sources mix in the atmosphere on hot, windless days. Motor vehicles generate more than half the hydrocarbons that create ozone, but reductions are being sought in a wide variety of other areas.

The EPA is expected to produce rules soon for reducing the hydrocarbon content of a whole range of products, including paints, hair spray and nail polish remover, pesticides and household products such as bathroom cleaners, air fresheners, glass cleaners, floor polish and furniture polish. Those regulations would apply nationwide.

Maryland officials, meanwhile, are preparing to publish new rules that would require "reasonable available control technology" on hydrocarbon emissions from polystyrene manufacturers, producers of yeast, commercial bakeries and printers.

"The new regulations don't scare us because we have been under severe regulation for the past three years," says Arthur Stowe, president of the Printing Industries of Maryland Inc. The state already requires emission controls on many of Maryland's 600 printing firms, he said.

Two Baltimore companies -- Red Star Yeast, a division of Universal Foods, and American Yeast Co. -- could have to spend about $500,000 for new equipment to reduce leaks of ethanol gas, state officials say.

Meanwhile, three or four large commercial bakeries would have to capture and burn off ethanol fumes leaking from their ovens.

State officials estimate that Giant Food Inc., H&S Bakery Inc. and Schmidt Baking Co. might have to spend $150,000 each on new pollution controls, but an environmental consultant for the businesses predicts the cost will be more like $250,000 to $500,000 per company.

Business leaders say the fight against ozone is important. But so the health of the Baltimore region's economy, they point out.

"Everybody understands the need for clean air," Mr. Stowe said. "But where's the balance between the need for jobs and pollution?"

OZONE HEARINGS

Baltimore region

* Nov 4: Westminster High School, 1225 Washington Road, Westminster, 7 p.m.

* Nov. 9: State Office Building, 300 W. Preston St., Baltimore, 7 p.m.

* Nov. 10: Legislative Services Building, 90 State Circle, Annapolis, 7 p.m.

Cecil County

* Nov. 8: Perryville High School, 1696 Perryville Road, Perryville, 7 p.m.

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