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EPA ceases air-quality monitoring at Konza

By Corene Brisendine

The Environmental Protection Agency has stopped monitoring the air quality on the Konza Prairie at the request of Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and the owners of the Konza.

John Briggs, director of the Konza Prairie Biological Station, said KDHE officials contacted both KSU and the Nature Conservancy, which owns the land, and asked them to request that the monitoring be shut down because of changes in EPA policy governing the use of data retrieved by the equipment. He said the concern was that the data would be used to regulate, rather than simply to monitor, pollutants.

Briggs said the biological station, which was set up in 2002, had been selected as a site by the EPA because it would be able to monitor air quality without significant impacts from city or industrial pollutants. He said the EPA chose several sites around the nation, among them wildlife preserves, parks and national forests, because of their relative isolation. He said researchers on the Konza also used the monitor as part of their long-term study of the conditions of the prairie.

“We were disappointed it was taken off-line because of the long-term data,” he said. “We set it up as a research thing, and now it is being used as a regulatory thing.”

Briggs said the KDHE requested the monitor be taken down because it “detected levels [of ozone] that exceed safety standards.” He said some believe those levels increase when the prairie is burned in the spring, but added that levels are actually being exceeded in the heat of the summer. He said high temperatures and high “background materials” from other regions carried in by the wind are the main culprits of the excessive ozone levels.

He said the EPA recently changed its policy governing the monitoring stations to raise “regulatory implications” when levels of ozone were detected above those standards. He said that would negatively impacted local businesses, the university and community members.

Craig Volland, chair of the Kansas Chapter Air Quality Committee, said in a press release that the negative impacts to the health of the community are most important and need to be the focus.

Volland said concerns that the data would be used toward regulatory ends were “hard to fathom” since EPA recently disavowed the use 2011 data related to ozone emissions for regulatory purposes.

Sheryl Magzamen, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, said the elderly and children with asthma are “highly susceptible groups” of high ozone levels. Briggs noted that there are still monitors near Wichita, Topeka, Kansas City and in western Kansas.

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