In Comanche County, air pollution rising

Lawton_Although air pollution may seem more common in big cities than in rural areas, that is not the case.  It's even becoming a problem in Comanche County.  The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) intends to launch a new campaign to alert Oklahomans to rural air quality problems.

At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has tightened its standards for ozone, and under those new standards, nine Oklahoma counties - including Comanche County - are not in compliance with the law.

According to the Comanche County daily readings, the air is completely in the safe range of air quality.  When the DEQ issued its report, it used ratings that were nearly four years old.  The EPA data even used an old meter.  According to those readings, Comanche County is in the red.

"There's been a big concern about the number of counties throughout the US that have exceeded the previous air quality standard," says Transportation Planner Katie Dermody.  She says because of that, the EPA has made the air quality index standard a little more strict, increasing the standard from .08 to .075.  She says there will now be no question of how much pollution a city can tolerate.  The major culprit is ozone.

Ozone is a pollutant formed when emissions from factories and combustion engines combine in hot, still weather.  To help prevent ozone pollution, it helps to park your car.  Heather Justice never thought Lawton had a pollution problem.  "I don't think about it," she said.  "I don't think we do, but we probably do."  And, hot days can make matters worse.

The Lawton Area Transit System (LATS) offers ½ off fares on air alert days, making it safer for everyone.  "The fewer vehicles that are on the road, the less emissions that are going to be put into the air," says LATS General Manager Steve Sherrer.  "We can take control, keep our levels where they need to be to maintain a healthy atmosphere for everyone.  If we all did that, it would make a difference."

The city is also trying to reduce air pollution through the creation of bicycle and pedestrian routes throughout the city.  Lawton is just beginning a 30-year plan to create ways to travel from one side of to the other without using an engine.

Here are some tips to help keep the ozone levels down this summer:

  • Drive less - try walking, biking, carpooling, or riding the bus.
  • Avoid long idle times - if your vehicle idles longer than 30 seconds, turn off your car when you're not in traffic in order to reduce fumes.
  • Avoid refueling during the day, and try not to fill up your tank.
  • Garden gasoline-free - avoid gas-powered yard tools until after 6 p.m., or switch to electric-powered tools.
  • Combine errands - this will minimize the need to "cold start" your car.