Potential job creators are avoiding East Tennessee because of poor scores in air quality and the problem has been exacerbated because of apparently tainted testing for pollutants by state laboratories in Nashville, according to the News Sentinel.
The problem, according to Director of Knox County Air Quality Management Lynne Liddington, is the Knoxville region’s inability to meet federal standards on particulate matter.
Exacerbating that issue, Liddington explained Wednesday to the Knoxville Region Transportation Planning Organization, are apparently tainted state Department of Health laboratories that had been analyzing air samples for Knox County.
Liddington said the Knoxville laboratory, which closed in 2012, had been testing Knox County’s five monitors at four sites. Last year, Liddington said Knox County switched its testing to the department’s lab in Nashville.
When the Environmental Protection Agency audited the Nashville laboratory, authorities found problems with humidity and temperature that prompted the EPA to question the laboratory’s findings.
“They basically said those results should be nullified, but we haven’t heard yet,” Liddington said.
She had no idea when the EPA would render a decision about the test results.
Liddington said Knox County now is in the process of selecting a new laboratory to conduct air quality tests.
Because the state laboratories tested air monitors throughout most of the state for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Liddington said EPA’s decision on the validity of the results could have statewide implications.
Under EPA guidelines, an area must be in compliance with particulate matter standards for three years before the federal agency deems the region an attainment zone.
…If the EPA rejects Knox County’s results, Liddington said it could be 2017 before the county garners an attainment designation.
Companies looking at the Knoxville area for expansion or to locate in the region want to know, Liddington said, if the air quality meets EPA standards. Failure to meet those standards means extra costs for new or expanding industries to install environmental equipment not required in an attainment zone.
“They just turn around and walk away,” Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said.
“It’s a major problem and it’s going to get worse. It’s devastating to our economic development.”
The mayor said county authorities had met with a “half-dozen major corporations” interested in locating in the region.
“There’s no telling how many haven’t come to us because of this,” he said. “We’re talking major, major prospects not coming to our region. It’s a huge issue and our chamber of commerce should be getting involved in this.”