WICHITA — If ozone levels continue to rise in the Wichita metro area, surrounding counties could find themselves out of compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency. The result could be stricter regulations and decreased federal funding.

The Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area includes Sedgwick, Harvey, Butler and Sumner counties and is currently in compliance. However, it is close to exceeding the national air quality standard for ozone.

According to the EPA, ground-level or "bad" ozone is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight. Emissions from industrial facilities and electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents are some of the major sources.

The EPA may give the Wichita metro area a "non-attainment" status if the three year rolling average of the fourth highest value at any one of the ozone monitors exceeds the limit during ozone season, April 1 through Oct. 31.

If the area falls out of compliance, Harvey and other counties near Wichita could face stricter regulatory requirements for local industry, increased fuel costs, loss of federal highway or transit funding, restrictive permitting, mandatory emissions offsetting and loss of economic development opportunities.

The city of Wichita has put together a plan to avoid non-compliance, and people in the region are urged to take steps to reduce local ozone levels.

People are encouraged to mow their lawns before 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m. and avoid mowing during the hottest parts of the day, especially during an "Ozone Alert" (an Ozone Alert occurs when there is a forecast for potentially high ozone levels on a certain day).

Drivers are asked to replace older vehicles with newer cars that have better emissions controls, and hybrid or electric vehicles are preferred over traditional vehicles. Biking or walking to work or recreational sites also can help to lower emissions. Avoid allowing your car to "idle" while at train crossings or drive-thrus or picking your child up from school.

Other suggestions include hosting free "Clean Air Car Clinics" several times a year, where people can bring their cars for emissions and gas cap testing.