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Knoxville asthma capital
First in a three-part series

If your allergies are acting up, asthma is kicking in, or the air seems dark and foggy, normal summertime weather may not be the culprit.

Action is being taken to bring Knoxville under the Environmental Protection Agency’s attainment standard for Ozone, but there seems to be another issue flowing through Knoxville’s air.

On March 2, Knoxville was found in violation of the Clean Air Fine Particle Rule, based on fine particles 2.5 microns and smaller (PM-2.5), according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Web site.

“We’re turning a corner on ozone issues,” said Steve Smith, executive director for Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “The big issue for East Tennessee is fine particulate matter. Knoxville continues to violate the Clean Air Fine Particle Rule.”

Fine particulate matter is produced through motor vehicles, power generation and industrial factories and consists of sulfate, nitrate, soil and elemental and organic carbon.

“Fine Particles can trigger asthma. Fine particles are much more problematic because they get past defense mechanisms the body has [and go] deep into the lungs,” Smith said. “[Fine particles] cross into the blood stream and can cause heart arrhythmias, premature death and lung cancer.”

Knoxville was ranked No. 11 in the 2006 Asthma Capitals list, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The list ranked states in order of difficulty to live in with asthma. Air quality was a determinant among many other factors such as public smoking laws, medicine use, access to doctors and mortality status.

TVA has taken steps to reduce sulfur emissions by implementing scrubbers on some of the 11 coal plants serving East Tennessee, said Gill Francis, spokesperson for TVA.

“Scrubbers reduce sulfur emissions by ninety percent,” Francis said. “We are going to have scrubbers at Kingston [coal plant]. By two thousand ten [the scrubbers] will be in use.”

Scrubbers remove sulfur dioxide from combustion gasses using a chemical reaction.

“There are eleven coal plants serving East Tennessee,” Smith said. “There are fifty nine boilers and only six have scrubbers.”

TVA is taking steps to reduce emissions, but there are other sources of air pollution in East Tennessee, said Lynn Liddington, spokesperson for the Department of Air Quality Management in Knoxville.

Diesel trucks and motor vehicles are the No. 1 contributor to air pollution in Knoxville, Liddington said.

Knoxville administration does not currently require vehicle emissions testing.

“The [emissions testing program] needs tweaking. It’s not efficient,” Liddington said. “[Emis-sions testing] is a lot of money for very few reductions.”

Smith believes that vehicle emissions testing would help reduce air pollution.

“Here’s the fact, Nashville is in attainment. Chattanooga is getting in attainment. They have emissions testing,” Smith said.

For more information about the effects of particulate matter visit the EPA Web site at


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