Statement on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal for the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone
The proposed revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone smog announced today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are a step toward cleaner air. While the American Lung Association is pleased that the EPA is calling for tighter standards, the agency’s plan falls short of the goal recommended by its own scientific experts. We are particularly concerned that the EPA has left the door open to choosing options that are simply not acceptable. We have reason to be concerned.
The EPA is proposing to tighten the ozone standard significantly, a move that is essential to protecting the public health. After all, the EPA’s own independent science advisors unequivocally emphasized the need for stronger standards in an October 2006 letter to the agency. The independent advisors warned that the ozone smog standard “needs to be substantially reduced” and that there is “no scientific justification” for retaining the current, weaker standard.
Unfortunately, the tightest new standard proposed by the EPA barely touches the more protective levels recommended by these same independent scientists. Under today’s proposal, the EPA could tighten the smog standards to 75 parts per billion (ppb), a clear improvement, but far short of the 60 to 70 ppb unanimously recommended by the scientists after they conducted an extensive review of the evidence. Alarmingly, the new EPA plan leaves the door wide open to an option the American Lung Association considers unacceptable: Making no improvements in the standards at all by retaining the current standard. In doing so, the EPA would ignore a decade of research. That is exactly what happened when the EPA issued its flawed decision on the annual fine particulate (soot) standard in 2006.
Ozone air pollution poses health risks for infants, children, seniors, and people with asthma and other lung diseases. For these sensitive populations, smog-polluted air can lead to breathing problems, aggravated asthma, hospital visits and even premature death.
According to the Clean Air Act, the nation’s landmark air pollution law, our air quality standards must be set at levels that protect public health – including the health of sensitive populations – with an adequate margin of safety. The revised standards the EPA proposes would expand protection to include millions of Americans but, regrettably, would continue to leave millions more unprotected from the harmful effects of bad air.
The science is clear. The people of this country have a right to know when the air they breathe is unhealthful. The Clean Air Act requires that pollution standards protect the public health. The revised ozone smog standards EPA is now proposing are a step toward that goal – but they do not go far enough. The EPA must not be allowed to ignore the science and set a weak ozone standard. In the coming months, EPA will conduct public hearings on the issue. The American Lung Association will be there to urge adoption of substantially stronger ozone standards that follow the law and the science. The final ozone smog standards are too critical to the health of millions to do otherwise.
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