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Cleaner air for Virginia

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The summer of 2017 was the cleanest ground-level ozone season in Virginia in at least 20 years, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

"We have made tremendous improvements in Virginia's air quality in the past two decades," DEQ Director David K. Paylor said in a statement.  "Though we still have work to do to ensure that our air remains clean, the progress we have seen so far is a great benefit to all Virginians."

Paylor said the trend for air quality in Virginia has been one of steady improvement. Pollutants such as ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particles have shown consistent declines for 20 years or more. Emissions of these pollutants have decreased by nearly 60 percent in the past 20 years.

Paylor noted in a news release that the drop has occurred despite increased demand for electricity and more vehicles on Virginia's highways.

Twenty years ago, DEQ reports that the ozone health standard was 120 parts per billion (ppb), and many urban areas in the state failed to meet it. Over the summer, by the end of September, four days had ozone levels that exceeded the current, more stringent ozone standard of 70 ppb.

These high readings were seen in Arlington and Fairfax counties, with four exceedances, and Henrico and Giles counties, each with one.
Other areas of Virginia had no high ozone days in 2017.

According to DEQ, this year was better than the second-cleanest year of 2013, when five high ozone days were recorded.

By comparison, in the 1990s, the state was reporting multiple ozone exceedances on a single day, and, in some cases, there were dozens of days statewide that experienced high ozone. The average number of high ozone days in the 1990s was 86, including a high of 108 in 1993 and 1998. 

Dominion Energy, the state’s largest utility, commented on DEQ’s findings with its own press release.

The company said it has spent $3.7 billion to reduce emissions since 2000 and that it has seen a 43 percent reduction in carbon emissions intensities for its generating stations since that time.

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