3 On Your Side: Does emissions testing really clear the air? - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

3 On Your Side: Does emissions testing really clear the air?

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Where there's smoke, there's ire.

Last week's 3 On Your Side report has drawn dozens of responses from some of your neighbors who identify with Signal Mountain's Eva Milligan.

Milligan tells Eyewitness News of spending more than $1,000 to repair her 1997 Ford Ranger pickup so that it could pass Hamilton County's mandatory emissions tests and be re-registered.

Her 'baby' has failed its last such test.

"March 3, it'll go up for sale," she says.

That's not blowing smoke. Literally or figuratively.

By Ford's and federal standards, her faulty transmission sensor is a sign she's polluting Hamilton County's air.

"If I could find proof that it (testing) actually helped, I would say, 'improve it'," she says.

Instead, she created an online petition that calls for scrapping the program.

Since our first 3 On Your Side story aired, it's gathered more than 300 virtual 'signatures.'

"They write how it is hurting them, how they've had to pay thousands of dollars in un-necessary repairs," she says. "It's ridiculous."

Hamilton County has had emissions testing for more than six and a half years. But the raw numbers gleaned from those statistics may not lend themselves to clear conclusions.

In 2006, the program's first full year, Hamilton County performed 276,827 emissions test. More than ten percent, 28,239, were failures.

By 2011, the failure rate had fallen to 8.07 percent, or 22,010. But Hamilton County performed 4,081 fewer tests, according to contractor Envirotest.

The numbers aren't clear as to whether fewer vehicles were tested, or fewer vehicles had to be tested repeatedly.

Figures do indicate more vehicles are passing on their first try: 1,200 more in 2011 than in 2006, a 6.23% failure rate last year versus 10.2% in 2006.

But the statistics also show that a vehicle that fails more than once is likely to keep failing. Some 2,265 vehicles failed three tests last year, compared to 2,235 three-time failures in 2006.

Milligan maintains that those numbers fail to answer the most critical question.

"They say it does help the pollution, it does help the environment, so I want the proof to back that up," she says.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger says the proof is in the lack of federal penalties.

"We have been at attainment levels for a number of years now," Coppinger says. "But we have to continue the program to stay at attainment levels."

Late Wednesday afternoon, Tennessee's Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) provided 3 On Your Side with monitoring data that shows a downward trend or decrease in numbers at both Ozone and PM2.5 (particulate matter), according to TDEC spokeswoman Meg Lockhart.

The data compares levels in 'parts per million' from 2005-2007 with levels in 2008-2010.

Broken down roughly, by percentages, ozone levels have dropped about 14% since emissions testing began. Particulate levels have dropped about 22.5%.

"This has a direct impact on economic development," Coppinger says. "If it weren't for that particular program, there wouldn't have been the opportunity to develop Enterprise South (Industrial Park), which as you know, is now home to Volkswagen, Amazon and seven to eight other suppliers."

Coppinger says county government will be working with Envirotest to make emissions testing more 'customer friendly.'

But Milligan is resigned to parting with the first vehicle she paid for, all by herself.

"If I could fix it, the 'check engine' light would be back in three months, " she says. "That'd be more repairs to get it ready for testing, so it's endless."

[READ MORE: 3 On Your Side: Pickup owner seeks to stop Hamilton County's vehicle testing]

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