Cincinnati, Ohio – Those who breathe Northern Kentucky air should be having an easier time doing so.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that the Kentucky area of the Greater Cincinnati region has reached “attainment” standards for the pollutant ozone.

“This is fantastic news,” said Mark Policinski, CEO of the Ohio-Indiana-Kentucky Regional Council of Governments. “It bodes well for the health of everyone in this region, especially those with chronic illnesses.”

Many studies show air pollution can contribute to quite a few maladies, including adverse birth outcomes, infant mortality, damaged lung function, asthma, and cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health. Evidence also shows that air pollution can increase the risk of neurological disorders and childhood obesity.

If air quality in an EPA-defined geographic area meets or is cleaner than the national standard, it is an “attainment” area. Conversely, an area that does not meet the national standard is a “nonattainment” area.

The new NKY designation brings the entire OKI region into attainment for the major air pollutants: particulate matter; lead; carbon monoxide; sulfur oxide; and nitrogen oxide.

“Cleaner air can boost economic development. Cities and regions are constantly vying for new talent, families and businesses,” Policinski said. “Those communities with healthier air quality have the advantage that comes with better health outcomes.”

As defined by the EPA, the “Cincinnati, Ohio-Kentucky area” comprises Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties in Ohio, and parts of Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties in Kentucky.

“The Kentucky portion of the OKI region is now in attainment of the ozone standard,” said Andy Reser, OKI’s transportation program manager. “This means that recently monitored air pollutant concentrations are within the threshold needed to be considered attainment – or does not exceed the ozone standard.”

Using monitored air quality measurements for ozone, the Kentucky Division for Air Quality (KDAQ) made the request for attainment reclassification to the U.S. EPA, based on the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). OKI forecasts of future transportation emissions played a key role in KDAQ’s request.

“OKI-forecasted transportation emissions information was provided to the KDAQ to help demonstrate that this region can maintain the standard through at least 2035,” Reser said.

NAAQS are limits on six pollutants that cause smogacid rain, and other health hazards. NAAQS apply to outdoor air throughout the country.

While other factors could have contributed to the reclassification – COVID, recent shutdowns of coal-producing plants, etc. – Reser said key OKI initiatives could also have helped lower ozone levels in this part of the region.

“A number of OKI-funded projects have contributed to a reduction in the region’s ozone levels, including roundabouts, bus replacements, bicycle and pedestrian initiatives, left hand turn additions, and others,” Reser said. “Our Rideshare and Clean Air campaigns also certainly played a part in less ambient ozone pollution.”

OKI is a council of local governments, business organizations and community groups committed to developing collaborative strategies, plans and programs to improve the quality of life and economic development potential of the Tri-State.