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SPECIAL REPORT: Inhaling Chicago smog

SHEBOYGAN (CBS 58) - The City of Sheboygan has some of the highest levels of smog in the Midwest.

They received a failing grade from the American Lung Association, and the EPA is targeting them with tougher air standards.

But the city leaders say it's not their fault, and there is nothing they can do about the pollution.

City officials say almost all the smog pollution they're being blamed for is coming from places south of the city, like Chicago.

They say a sensor in the wrong place is costing them money and jobs.

“It's just something that's an ugly black mark on our county,” said Jane Brill from the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce.

Brill is among the officials that say smog is drifting from places like Chicago, over Lake Michigan and settling on the Sheboygan shoreline.

“We began to discover it in 2013 is when we first began to discuss it,” said Sheboygan Mayor Mike Vandersteen.

“Over any large body of water, you're going to have a buildup of ozone, it's just a natural phenomenon that happens,” said Brill.

A recent DNR study confirmed that the vast majority of pollutants blowing into the Sheboygan community came from the south and places like the Windy City.

“Only 13% of the pollution that is being picked up there is being generated by the state of Wisconsin, and less than 2% is from Sheboygan County itself,” said Brill.

But that didn't stop the EPA from listing Sheboygan as "nonattainment" which is EPA for a failing grade.

It triggers tougher standards and a bigger burden on local manufacturers.

“There's a lot of extra money that has to be put into their operations to scrub that air and to make it cleaner and it's still not producing any effective results because just a small amount of the pollutants come from the local community,” said Mayor Vandersteen.

“The DNR has actually stated that Sheboygan County could stop driving all of their automobiles, trucks, they could shut down every single business and we would still be nonattainment,” said Brill.

So the city went on the offensive.

The sensor that the EPA is using is called the Kohler-Andrae, and is located at the lakeshore where the Chicago smog settles in.

So the city put in another one, called the Haven monitor, farther inland.

“The data actually showed a 12% decrease in what is being measured at the Kohler-Andrae monitor to the Haven monitor and it is within the stringent, 2015, national ambient air quality standards,” said Brill.

Problem solved right? Wrong.

“We've got the three years of data, we've supported our points, and we still aren't there yet,” said the Mayor.

The sensor did help convince the EPA to shrink the zone that's considered failing to about a two mile strip along the shore.

“For the lack of a better term,” said Brill, “it's splits the county along I-43.”

But almost half of Sheboygan's businesses that emit gases measured by the EPA, are in that strip.

“What we'd really like to see is the entire county to be in attainment,” said Mayor Vandersteen.

Sheboygan is not alone, communities up and down the Wisconsin shoreline are being affected by, according to the DNR, smog from out of state.

It's the reason most of us who live in one of these counties have to get yearly emissions testing done on our cars.

But for Sheboygan's Mayor, he's most concerned about the impact on business.

“Our citizens are very worried about the air that they breathe and on those high temperature days when they're at the lake, they may be breathing some of those increased numbers of pollutants in the air,” said Vandersteen.

We did reach out to the Illinois and Wisconsin EPAs, as well as the Chicago mayor's office, we did not here back for this story.

As to why the Sheboygan sensor was put down by the lake.  It was put there to do what it's doing, measure smog blowing in from the lake.

But it was never intended to be used as a measuring stick for whether Sheboygan is meeting national standards.

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