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Proposed health-protective ozone standard is withdrawn

September 8, 2011

President Obama recently ordered EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to withdraw the EPA’s proposed national ambient air quality standard for ground-level ozone. This order, which ignores the scientific advice of the EPA’s own scientists, will allow ozone concentrations to continue unabated at levels that contribute to thousands of premature deaths and heart attacks each year.

PSR urges its members to call the White House and tell President Obama they are deeply disappointed by his decision.

Obama’s decision puts lives on the line.  Ozone is particularly harmful to infants and children, the elderly, and those with asthma or other underlying respiratory or cardiac disease. Those who play and work outside are also vulnerable to its adverse health effects.

 

Asthma, reduced lung function

In addition to contributing to premature death and heart attacks, ozone also aggravates asthma and contributes to respiratory illnesses. It reduces lung function and has been linked to lung cancer. It has also been linked to premature birth and cardiac birth defects.

 

Ozone, the major component of smog, is the most pervasive outdoor air pollutant in the US. It is formed when pollutants released from power plants and cars are exposed to sunlight and heat in the lower atmosphere.

A stronger ozone standard – the kind that Obama ordered EPA not to implement – would reap significant health benefits.  EPA scientists have calculated that the stronger standards would prevent 12,000 deaths per year, decrease hospital and emergency room visits by 21,000 per year, decrease asthma attacks by 58,000 per year, reduce by 2.5 million the number of days when people miss work or school and reduce by 8.1 million the days when people must restrict their activities.

 

$1 trillion in health savings

The EPA calculates that preventing these harms would result in up to $1 trillion in health improvement savings over a 10-year period, far outstripping the up to $900 billion in estimated compliance costs.

 

Obama’s decision also goes against the advice of his administration’s own scientists. The currently applicable standard, set in 1997, is 86 parts per billion (ppb). Since then, EPA’s scientists have determined at least twice that this level threatens human health.

When George W. Bush proposed lowering the standard to 75 ppb in 2008, his proposal exceeded the recommendations of EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Panel (CASAC), which had suggested a standard of 60-70 ppb to protect human health. After Obama’s inauguration, EPA withdrew the Bush standard in order to reevaluate the science, leaving the 1997 standard in place. Again, CASAC suggested a standard of 60-70 ppb, based on available science. But Obama ordered EPA to withdraw the proposed standard. In doing so, he leaves in place the outdated, dangerously high 1997 standard of 86 ppb. 

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