The plan was accepted by the targeted departments in March 2019, but the level of compliance and the change in operations has yet to be fully assessed. The first air quality advisory day that occurred after the plan was adopted was in June 2019.
The action items in the plan included how to limit employee exposure, training opportunities, operational limits, and the responsibilities for staff. The operational limits are based on Air Quality Alert days when the air quality index and particulate matter are above certain levels. On those days, operational limits are placed on the use of equipment, chemicals, and motor vehicles, and time frame restrictions are implemented for fueling vehicles. The plan also breaks down what actions staff are responsible for to ensure all aspects of the plan are carried out.
The response complemented U.S. EPA, Ohio EPA, and the Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency’s implementation of the Air Quality Index, its daily forecast, and associated action guidance. Further, the response fulfilled the recommendation to implement such a plan found in the 2018 Green Cincinnati Plan.
As of fall 2020, the City had not yet quantified public health benefits or reductions in employee injuries/incidents since the creation of this plan. The plan has been used by the state and federal EPA to demonstrate best practices to other stakeholders.
One challenge still being addressed is the lack of quantitative data on public health benefits and reductions in employee injuries/incidents. Once the City can quantify this information, they will have a better understanding of the plan’s success and which areas need improvement. At the time the plan was prepared, metrics were not a core goal and the City did not have additional resources to commit to it. However, adding metrics may become more important in the future depending on the ability of the region to meet air quality attainment goals. The Office of Environment and Sustainability suggested that other local governments and organizations interested in developing a similar plan should consider adding metrics if data is available.
As with any voluntary plan or project, the City has had challenges engaging all necessary participants. The Department of Energy and Sustainability is currently working with all departments across City Hall to demonstrate the benefits of the plan to ensure compliance.
As the City was developing the plan, they found it beneficial to involve leadership and staff across all departments, a feat that helped secure buy in. The Cincinnati Office of Environment and Sustainability suggested that other local governments or organizations wanting to adopt a similar plan identify at least one champion per department that is actively involved with developing and implementing it across the organization.
Larry Falkin, director of the Office of Environment and Sustainability, discussed the changes that departments are making in response to the Air Quality Advisory Action Plan and stated, “Nobody knows a job as well as the person doing that job. When you set out to make modifications, they will know solutions that you did not think of.” For the air quality plan, this came in the form of working with the employees who would be impacted to make sure the operational limits they would have to work around were not overly burdensome while still adhering to public health standards.