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What Does Haze Mean to Berks County?

With haze, visibility is impaired by a mixture of particulate matter from a wide variety of sources scattered across a large region, thus the name "regional haze." Sulfate particulate matter from power plants and other sources, the prime component of regional haze in most areas, gives the atmosphere a washed-out, whitish appearance.

Regional haze is not simply humidity. Regional haze is particulate matter pollution that is enhanced by humidity. Yet humidity alone does not cause visibility impairment. Haze from particles such as nitrates and sulfates is enhanced by humidity as the particles absorb water and grow. Nitrates and sulfates can more than triple in size as relative humidity increases, making visibility worse during periods of high humidity, such as the summer months in Berks County.

Haze in the air not only affects our view of the Reading skyline and scenic features like the Pagoda and Blue Mountain to the west, but haze is also a measure of air pollution that can adversely affect our health and the economic growth of Berks Couty.  Haze and poor visibility are caused by air pollutants that include ozone and fine particulate matter, both of which are linked to respiratory illnesses like asthma in sensitive populations like the elderly and our children.  Fine particulate matter includes nitrates and sulfates that cause acid rain which damages crops, fish populations, historical monuments, and the paint on our cars and houses.  Ozone is a measure of smog and is caused by emissions from our cars, from power plants, and from industrial sources combining in the presence of sunlight to form ozone and other reactive gases that adversely affect lung function. 

Berks County is classified as “nonattainment” with the federal ozone and fine particulate (“PM2.5”) standards. When the EPA classifies an area's air quality as nonattainment it means the air quality does not meet national standards and that states must draft a plan on how they will improve air quality in their region.  Haze is related to the levels of ozone and PM2.5 in our air.  Nonattainment status means that new industrial growth in Berks County is more difficult because industrial air emissions must be reduced by federal mandate.  Nonattainment status sometimes leads companies to choose to locate manufacturing plants in other counties or in other states due to the high costs associated with meeting nonattainment air permitting requirements.  Nonattainment status can also result in burdens on vehicle owners such as vehicle emissions testing, car pooling for large employers, and requirements for reformulated gasoline or diesel fuel.

Federal regulations are requiring the introduction of cleaner automobile and truck engines and the use of cleaner diesel fuel over the next few years.  Federal regulations will also require some power plants to reduce air emissions that contribute to haze formation.  Pennsylvania state regulations are expected to reduce emissions from certain industrial sources that contribute to haze formation.  But these regulations alone are not expected to significantly reduce haze and to bring Berks County into attainment with the ozone and PM2.5 standards before 2010.   We can all do our part to help reduce emissions from vehicles and to reduce emissions from power plants by driving wisely and by improving energy efficiency of our homes, appliances, and our lighting systems.  Buying fuel efficient vehicles, telecommuting, buying energy efficient appliances, and conserving electricity usage at home and in the office are all smart choices that reduce air emissions and save money.       

As you can see, cleaning the air by reducing haze in Berks County will not only improve our health and our scenic vistas but will also promote economic development and tourism and make our county a more attractive place to live and work.  


Berks County Environmental Advisory Council

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