Lake and Porter counties are among those not complying with a federal ozone standard, and Indiana will have to develop a plan to meet the air quality rule by 2015.
However, local and state officials say the designation is problematic and that Hoosiers continue to breathe air that meets federal standards.
The Environmental Protection Agency sent notices to Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin on Thursday that eight counties and parts of three counties in the Chicago metropolitan area did not meet the 2008 National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone, or smog. Cook and Will counties in Illinois also were designated as nonattainment areas.
The agency said designations for other areas of the country were completed in late April.
In its rating, the EPA said the counties were in "marginal nonattainment" based on data from air monitoring stations, sources of pollutants and weather patterns. This means the area is closer to meeting the standard than those that received more severe ratings.
In a statement from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management spokeswoman Amy Hartsock said Friday that "the designation is not based on Indiana air quality." She said only one monitor, which is located in Illinois, of the 22 in the area registered ozone levels not meeting the requirement. Hartsock said an IDEM analysis found that Illinois' decision to change its automotive inspection program was the primary cause of the monitor reading.
"It is unfair that Indiana is included in the nonattainment area boundary for the Chicago MSA (metropolitan statistical area) and is being held hostage until Chicago meets the standard," Hartsock said.
Kay Nelson, director of environmental affairs at the Northwest Indiana Forum, said the redesignation "inaccurately portrays Northwest Indiana’s residents and businesses as not having done their part to improve the quality of life in our long-term efforts to provide clean air."
On May 1, 2010, Gov. Mitch Daniels announced that Lake and Porter counties were complying with the 1997 ozone standard.
The EPA, however, began to implement a standard set in 2008 during the Bush administration to lower the eight-hour ozone standard to 75 parts per billion from 85 parts per billion. The standard was lowered to protect public health and the Clean Air Act requires EPA to analyze and, if necessary, revise air quality standards every five years to determine if they are sufficient.
"It's one of these situations where we're all in this together," said Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. "No matter what state you live in, if you're in the metropolitan Chicago region, we all have an air quality problem."
Urbaszewski said it is likely that ozone standard could be revised eventually and lowered, especially since an EPA advisory panel deemed that the standard in 2008 should have been between 60 and 70 parts per billion.