New Ozone Standards Don’t Provide Adequate Protection

(June 3, 2008)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a tightening of the health-based National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone pollution in March that fell far short of the requirements of the Clean Air Act—and of what EPA’s own scientific advisors had recommended.  Two to three times as many people could have been protected from an early death from their exposure to ozone if EPA had followed the scientists’ recommendations, according to the EPA’s own estimates.

Ozone, more commonly known as smog, can kill. Ozone threatens the health of infants, children, seniors, and people who have asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and other lung diseases. For these people, breathing smog-polluted air can make them cough and wheeze, restrict their airways, worsen their diseases, force them to the hospital and even shorten their lives.

The national air quality standard drives nearly all the measures to clean up ozone that the federal, state and local governments, as well as industry and agriculture, must follow. The Clean Air Act requires that the EPA set the ozone standard at a level that protects the health of the public from the pollutant. The EPA’s announcement came after legal action by the American Lung Association forced the Agency to complete a long-overdue review.  

The new amount of allowable ozone in the air is 75 parts per billion. The previous standard was 84 parts per billion. Some governors, and some industry and agricultural interests, pushed to keep the ozone standard the same. The EPA’s own expert science advisors recommended a much tighter standard, in the range of 60 to 70 parts per billion, well below the 75 parts per billion EPA announced March 12. That may not sound like a big difference, but it literally means thousands of lives put at risk.

“We are unable to celebrate half measures when the risks are so evident, when the science and the scientists are so united about what is needed and when the missed opportunity means that thousands will suffer more and die sooner than they should,” said Bernadette Toomey, President and CEO of the American Lung Association.   “Furthermore, we reject the suggestions made by the Administrator to weaken and undermine the Clean Air Act itself. Coming from the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, such suggestions are truly outrageous.”

For more information on the facts about the new ozone standards, visit www.lung.org.