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Environment Department
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Ozone

In October 2015, the federal government lowered the NAAQS for ozone from 0.075 parts per million (ppm) to 0.070 ppm. Ozone data collected by the New Mexico Environment Department from 2013 through 2015 shows that all but two locations are meeting the new ozone standard. However, monitors in Sunland Park and Santa Teresa have levels of ozone at 0.072 ppm.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Ozone Standard Designation Process

Why is the New Mexico Environment Department proposing a nonattainment area in southern Doña Ana County? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) set a new National Ambient Air Quality Standard (“NAAQS” or “standards”) for ozone in 2015. The previous ozone standard was set at a level of 75 parts per billion (or 0.075 parts per million); EPA revised the standard to 70 parts per billion. The southern Doña Ana County ozone levels in Santa Teresa and Sunland Park are currently at 72 parts per billion, exceeding the level of the revised 70 parts per billion standard.

What are the NAAQS? The federal Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set NAAQS for six common air pollutants found throughout the United States: particle pollution (particulate matter), ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead (officially termed criteria pollutants). These pollutants can cause harm to human health and the environment, and cause property damage. EPA sets primary standards for these pollutants based on protection of public health. Additional secondary standards are set to prevent environmental and property damage.

What is ground-level ozone? Ground level ozone is the main ingredient in smog. It is created by chemical reactions between nitrogen oxides (“NOx”) and volatile organic compounds (“VOCs”) with sunlight as the driver. Hot, sunny days may produce unhealthy levels of ozone, especially in urban environments. Sometimes ozone concentrations can reach high levels in winter as well, especially where there is a lot of snow. Smoke from wildfires can also contribute pollutants that increase formation of ozone.

Sources of NOx and VOCs include industrial facilities, electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors and chemical solvents. However, wind may transport ozone over long distances, so even rural areas may have occurrences of high ozone concentrations due to ozone migrating from areas with higher populations or more air pollution sources.

What is the difference between ground level and stratospheric ozone? Ground level ozone, the ozone for which EPA sets national standards, is harmful to human health and damaging to the environment and property.

Stratospheric ozone, on the other hand, occurs naturally in the upper atmosphere and provides a shield against excessive exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

What are the health effects of ground-level ozone? Breathing ozone can trigger many health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and airway inflammation. Ozone can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma and may harm lung tissue.

Who is at greatest risk from exposure to ozone? The people most at risk include those with asthma and other breathing problems, children, older adults, and people who are active outdoors. Also, people with certain genetic characteristics and people that don’t get enough of certain nutrients, such as vitamins C and E, are at greater risk of health problems from ozone exposure.

What is the ozone designation process? Within two years of setting a new or revised NAAQS, EPA is required by the Clean Air Act to designate areas as either meeting (attainment) or not meeting (nonattainment) the standard. States are required to submit their recommendations to EPA within 12 months of a new or revised NAAQS being finalized. In this case, all states must submit their designation recommendations to EPA by October 1, 2016. EPA must finalize area designations by October 1, 2017, and notify states by June 2017 if their final designation differs from the state recommendation, giving those states 120 days to respond.

EPA’s final designations are based on data from air quality monitors, the state’s recommendation, and other technical information. Part of the state’s recommendation includes proposed boundaries for any nonattainment areas. EPA guidance for boundary-setting encourages state air agencies to consider air quality data from monitors, emissions, weather patterns, geography and land forms, and jurisdictional boundaries (such as counties, cities and towns).

What does nonattainment mean? Once states submit recommendations, EPA determines the correct classification for that particular NAAQS. If the air quality in an area meets or is cleaner than the national standard, it is called an attainment area (designated unclassifiable/attainment). Areas that do not meet the national standard are called nonattainment areas. If there is not enough available information to determine an area’s status, EPA designates that area as unclassifiable.

After designations take effect, state and local governments are required to develop plans that detail how nonattainment areas will attain and maintain the standards by reducing air pollutants.

Are any areas in New Mexico in nonattainment for the 2015 ozone NAAQS? Yes. Two air monitors in southern Doña Ana County (one in Santa Teresa near the border crossing and one in Sunland Park at the Desert View Elementary School) have shown exceedances of the ozone NAAQS, based on monitor data from 2013 – 2015. These monitors are located near El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. All other monitors operated by the New Mexico Environment Department show compliance with the NAAQS, and have a recommended designation of unclassifiable/attainment. Areas without an ozone monitor have a recommended designation of unclassifiable. The public review copy of the Department’s recommendation can be found here: 2015 Ozone Designation Request.

How does NMED know the data are accurate? The New Mexico Environment Department monitoring site operators perform daily validation checks on each monitor, and each monitor undergoes quarterly maintenance and calibration checks. Monitoring data are also validated on a quarterly basis prior to submittal to EPA’s Air Quality System (“AQS”). AQS is a database that contains air pollution data collected by EPA and other federal agencies such as the National Park Service, and state, local, and tribal air pollution control agencies throughout the United States. The AQS also contains weather data, descriptions of each monitoring station, and data quality assurance/quality control information. These are the official data used for developing attainment/nonattainment area designations.

Real-time monitoring data that has not yet been validated by the New Mexico Environment Department may be accessed via the Monitoring link on the Environment Department Air Quality Bureau’s home page: https://www.env.nm.gov/air-quality/.

What does this recommendation mean for me as a citizen or business owner? Reducing ozone benefits everyone by making breathing easier and protecting property. Some sources of certain air pollutants may be subject to more stringent pre-construction permitting requirements to guarantee that their emissions do not worsen air quality within the nonattainment area. This may also apply to sources in areas outside the nonattainment area whose emissions may negatively impact the air quality in the nonattainment area. Small businesses are not likely to experience additional regulatory requirements.

What decision process was used for the recommended boundary? The New Mexico Environment Department followed EPA’s guidance to prepare our designation recommendation. Because ozone is being transported into New Mexico from Texas and Mexico, we took care to keep the recommended boundary as small as possible, and did not include any areas in the county where our data shows that air quality meets the standard.

What are the consequences if this recommendation does not get submitted? If the New Mexico Environment Department does not submit a designation recommendation to EPA by October 1, 2016, EPA will determine the nonattainment boundary itself, and the State will lose its right to determine the boundary. EPA assumes that the appropriate boundary for a county with one or more monitors not in compliance with the NAAQS is the entire county. This means that all of Doña Ana County could be designated as nonattainment for the ozone standard if the New Mexico Environment Department does not submit a recommendation by October 1st.

How long will the area remain in nonattainment status? Before the New Mexico Environment Department can start the redesignation process, the nonattainment area monitors would need to demonstrate compliance with the standards for 3 consecutive years.

What are the next steps? After an official EPA designation of nonattainment, the New Mexico Environment Department will be required to develop a nonattainment State Implementation Plan that outlines the strategies and emissions control measures that are expected to improve air quality to meet the ozone standard in the area by a specified date. These strategies and emissions control measures would aim to reduce the amount of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds emitted to the atmosphere. They may rely on current or upcoming federal rules, or new or revised state rules. If emissions from Mexico keep New Mexico from meeting the standards, the New Mexico area could remain nonattainment but would not face more stringent requirements over time.

Who can I contact if I have questions or for more information? For questions, please contact Mike Baca with the New Mexico Environment Department Air Quality Bureau at (575) 915-1091, or by email at michael.baca1@state.nm.us.

Ozone Monitoring Data

The Air Quality Bureau maintains 15 ozone monitors across the state. Real-time data can be accessed here.

 

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