Environmental officials say fuel prices in south-central Kansas could rise even faster than they already are in coming years if air quality doesn’t improve.


Environmental officials say fuel prices in south-central Kansas could rise even faster than they already are in coming years if air quality doesn’t improve.

The region, which has struggled with meeting federal air-quality standards, is in danger of joining the Kansas City metropolitan area in mandatory smog-reduction practices, including the use of low-emission gasoline blends.

Those types of blends add about 2 cents per gallon to the price of fuel, said Tom Gross, who heads the air monitoring and planning division of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The blends are designed to reduce evaporation and cut down on the amount of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that leak into the atmosphere at gas stations or from vehicles with defective or worn gas caps.

VOCs help create ozone by mixing nitrogen oxides. Ozone, while beneficial in absorbing harmful ultraviolet rays high in the atmosphere, is a pollutant that causes respiratory problems, especially for people with asthma or allergies.

Kansas, whose summers feature lots of hot, still air and sunshine, is susceptible to ground-level ozone, Gross said.

“Hope for cool weather,” he said. “It’s easier that way for you and us.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lowered its threshold ozone levels in March to 75 parts per billion. The Wichita area met the previous standard of 80 parts per billion but a monitoring station near Peck in north Sumner County is slightly over the new mark.

The EPA uses the area’s worst reading to determine whether to impose pollution restrictions.

Besides the more expensive fuel, Kansas City also has restrictions on idling large diesel truck and requires pollution-reduction measures are power plants, Gross said.

State officials have determined that much of the pollution recorded near Peck is coming from Oklahoma City, Dallas or even St. Louis. Because the state hadn’t previously been in danger of violating EPA pollution limits, KDHE hasn’t done the complex computer modeling to determine how much smog is coming from out of state, Gross said.

But many of those cities are taking measures to cut down on pollution, which should help south-central Kansas. Also, reducing the approximately 80,000 tons of nitrogen oxides and VOCs produced in Wichita each year could keep the region in compliance, he said.

Local officials are monitoring the situation and the state is planning two more meetings as it develops its analysis.

“This is going to pull us all in and give us a job to do to reduce our impact on the environment,” said county Commissioner Gwen Welshimer.

She said the county could try to find ways to reduce the amount of driving its staff makes, cutting down on emissions that way.