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EPA Exemptions Could Mean Poorer Air Quality In Milwaukee Area & Rural Wisconsin

cropped_london_fog.jpg
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Smog in London, 1993. In 1952, the Great Smog of London is believed to have directly killed 6,000 people in the following weeks and months.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul recently announced that he will defend an EPA decision to exempt parts of the Milwaukee area from stricter air quality regulations. Kaul will be siding with the Trump administration and former Gov. Scott Walker in defending the exemption, which contends that much of the area’s air pollution is caused by Illinois and Indiana.

At the center of the issue is the problem of smog and ground-level ozone — a mixture of gasses and air pollution that can have a dramatic impact on a person’s health. Jonathan Kahl, a professor of atmospheric science at UW-Milwaukee, says that although the unique wind pattern in our area does bring in air pollution from Illinois and Indiana, these exemptions will still have a detrimental impact. 

"Air quality for people living downwind will take a turn for the worse. It’s a bad idea for the atmospheric environment to exempt certain areas because you know that the areas that are exempted are areas that are going to pollute, that wouldn’t be able to meet the standard otherwise," says Kahl. 

He continues, "It's not only a bad idea for the local areas. ... When the lake breeze kicks in, maybe 50, 100 miles farther north, the pollutants come back on shore in a concentrated way. And for this reason, rural areas — like Door County, for example — often have ozone exceedances." 

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Joy Powers joined WUWM January 2016 as producer for Lake Effect. Most recently, she was a director and producer for The Afternoon Shift, on WBEZ-fm, Chicago Public Radio.