Air-quality monitors to stay in Loudon for now

TDEC says it has gathered enough data to assess risk

Hugh G. Willett,

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has decided for the time being not to remove two air-quality monitoring stations from Loudon County.

Representatives of TDEC and the Environmental Protection Agency addressed a meeting of the Loudon County Air Quality Task Force on Thursday to dispel rumors that the monitors would be removed and to explain plans for future analysis of the data.

One of the two monitors that measure toxic concentrations in the air might be removed sometime next year, but that is because TDEC has gathered enough data from the two existing monitors over the last five years to perform a risk assessment, said Barry Stevens, director of the Air Quality Division of TDEC.

"We're not trying to walk away from this," Stevens said. "We've put five years into this effort."

Mike Crosby, chairman of the Loudon Air Quality Task Force, said his group was concerned the monitors might be removed before the data had been analyzed.

Previous studies show that Loudon County has some the highest rates of air-quality-related illnesses in the state, he said.

Stevens explained that because there had not been significant changes in the level of toxic chemicals detected by the monitors over several years, there was little to be gained by further measurement.

The next step is to analyze the data from the monitors to try to create a risk-assessment analysis, said Ken Mitchell, chief of the EPA's Southeast Clean Air Division in Atlanta. The monitors have created a rich data set over the last five years, he said. "Good science says let the data guide you on what to do," Mitchell said.

The EPA analysis should begin in January and will attempt to assess the risk, which will lead to the risk-management stage.