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Rayonier Performance Fibers’ Fernandina Beach Sulfite Pulp Mill.

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EPA upgrades air quality designation in Nassau County

Sulfur dioxide levels dropped in Fernandina Beach area.

The Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged air quality improvements in Nassau County.

The federal agency on Friday approved a state request to change designations for the Nassau County Area from non-attainment to attainment for the 2010 1-Hour Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) standard.

“Working in partnership with the state, we were able to achieve significant improvements in air quality in the Nassau County area,” said Mary S. Walker, acting EPA administrator for Region 4.

“Meeting the national sulfur dioxide standard is a critical step in providing a healthy environment for Nassau County citizens.”

For the past decade, the state Department of Environmental Protection has worked with federal officials on air quality. That included developing strategies for achieving and maintaining compliance with the 2010 1-hour SO2 standard across the state.

That proved challenging in Nassau County thanks to a concentration of power plants and industrial facilities.

A designated Nassau County Area includes Rayonier Performance Fibers’ Fernandina Beach Sulfite Pulp Mill. Just outside the Area, Westrock’s Fernandina Beach Mill also produces pollution.

But state and federal officials worked with those companies to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions at both sources. That helped bring the Nassau County Area into attainment.

“Collaboration is a vital component of environmental protection,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein.

“In this case, this effort successfully generated a plan that has resulted in substantial emission reductions and greatly improved air quality in Nassau County and will ensure this continues into the future.”

Sulfur dioxide levels serve as the chief indicator of gaseous sulfur dioxides, dangerous air pollutants. EPA officials say a reduction in those levels indicates those in the region will be less exposed to danger.

Short-term sulfur-dioxide exposure harms the respiratory system, posing a particular threat to those with asthma, particularly children.

Air quality measurements for the Fernandina Beach area can be tracked on the DEP’s website.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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