Thursday, January 07, 2010

EPA Proposes Strengthened Ozone Standards

Jan 7: U.S. EPA proposed the strictest health standards to date for ground-level ozone or smog. EPA said ground-level ozone, is linked to a number of serious health problems, ranging from aggravation of asthma to increased risk of premature death in people with heart or lung disease. Ozone can even harm healthy people who work and play outdoors. The Agency is proposing to replace the standards set by the previous administration, which many believe were not protective enough of human health [See WIMS 3/13/08]. EPA is proposing a rule to set the “primary” standard, which protects public health, at a level between 0.060 and 0.070 parts per million (ppm) measured over eight hours. The current primary 8-hour standard is 0.075 ppm. EPA said it will issue final standards by August 31, 2010.

EPA said that children are at the greatest risk from ozone, because their lungs are still developing, they are most likely to be active outdoors, and they are more likely than adults to have asthma. Adults with asthma or other lung diseases, and older adults are also sensitive to ozone. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, “EPA is stepping up to protect Americans from one of the most persistent and widespread pollutants we face. Smog in the air we breathe poses a very serious health threat, especially to children and individuals suffering from asthma and lung disease. It dirties our air, clouds our cities, and drives up our health care costs across the country. Using the best science to strengthen these standards is a long overdue action that will help millions of Americans breathe easier and live healthier.”

EPA is also proposing to set a separate “secondary” standard to protect the environment, especially plants and trees. This seasonal standard is designed to protect plants and trees from damage occurring from repeated ozone exposure, which can reduce tree growth, damage leaves, and increase susceptibility to disease. EPA is proposing to set the level of the secondary standard
within the range of 7-15 ppm-hours. The current secondary standard is the same as the primary standard -- 0.075 ppm. EPA said the new secondary standard should be a cumulative, seasonal standard expressed as an annual index of the sum of weighted hourly concentrations, cumulated over 12 hours per day (8:00 am to 8:00 pm) during the consecutive 3-month period within the O3 season with the maximum index value, set at a level within the range of 7 to 15 ppm-hours.

In September 2009 Administrator Jackson announced that EPA would reconsider the existing ozone standards, set at 0.075 ppm in March 2008 [See WIMS 9/16/09]. As part of its reconsideration, EPA conducted a review of the science that guided the 2008 decision, including more than 1,700 scientific studies and public comments from the 2008 rulemaking process. EPA also reviewed the findings of the independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which recommended standards in the ranges that EPA has proposed.

EPA said that depending on the level of the final standard, the proposal would yield health benefits between $13 billion and $100 billion. This proposal would help reduce premature deaths, aggravated asthma, bronchitis cases, hospital and emergency room visits and days when people miss work or school because of ozone-related symptoms. Estimated costs of implementing this proposal range from $19 billion to $90 billion. Ground-level ozone forms when emissions from industrial facilities, power plants, landfills and motor vehicles react in the sun. EPA will take public comment for 60 days after the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. The Agency will hold three public hearings on the proposal: Feb. 2, 2010 in Arlington, VA and in Houston; and Feb. 4, 2010 in Sacramento.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) issued a statement on EPA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the 2008 ozone standard saying, “The action lacks scientific justification. EPA acknowledges the newer studies on ozone ‘do not materially change any of the broad scientific conclusions regarding the health effects of exposure’. Given that conclusion, there is absolutely no basis for EPA to propose changing the ozone standards promulgated by the EPA Administrator in 2008. To do so is an obvious politicization of the air quality standard setting process that could mean unnecessary energy cost increases, job losses and less domestic oil and natural gas development and energy security."

Cal Baier-Anderson, Ph.D., a toxicologist with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said, "EPA's proposed standards promise clean air protections that reach from the nation's urban neighborhoods and communities to our rural forests and croplands. Children are especially vulnerable to ozone air pollution. For millions of children, high pollution days make it difficult to attend school, to play outside and to simply breathe." EDF said the Agency's new action reverses a 2008 decision under the Bush EPA and follows the recommendations of expert scientists.

The new proposal from EPA is consistent with recommendations of EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) which unanimously advised the previous EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson that the nation's health standard should be between 0.060 to 0.070 parts per million. Additionally, the National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA) which represents the state and local air quality agencies in 53 states and territories and over 165 metropolitan areas across the country supported the CASAC’s recommendation and had also advocated a distinct, cumulative seasonal secondary standard."

Access a release from EPA (
click here). Access links to extensive background information including a fact sheet and the prepublication copy of the proposed rule (click here). Access the API statement (click here). Access a release from EDF (click here).