Based on scientific evidence on effects that ground-level ozone pollution, or smog, has on public health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has strengthened standards for it to 70 parts per billion from 75 ppb to protect public health.
Ground-level ozone forms when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds react in the air.
The updated standards will reduce Americans’ exposure to ozone, improving public health protection especially for at risk groups including children, older adults, and people who have lung diseases such as asthma, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Thursday.
However, environmental and health advocates say the standards are too weak, while business groups say they’re too strong.
Harold P. Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said the new standards are a step in the right direction.
However, the level chosen of 70 parts ppb doesn’t reflect what the science shows is necessary to truly protect public health, Wimmer said.
“Of the levels that were under consideration by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an ozone limit of 60 ppb would have given Americans much greater health protections,” he said. “According to EPA’s proposal, a 60 ppb standard would have prevented up to 1.8 million asthma attacks in children, 1.9 million school days missed, and 7,900 premature deaths nationwide.”
McCarthy said the EPA examined nearly 2,300 studies in its review for the ozone standards including more than 1,000 new studies published since the last review of the standards in 2008.
The public health benefits of the updated standards, estimated at $2.9 to $5.9 billion annually in 2025, outweigh the estimated annual costs of $1.4 billion, McCarthy said.
However, the National Association of Manufacturers said the new standards will inflict pain on manufacturers.
“Today, the Obama Administration finalized a rule that is overly burdensome, costly and misguided,” said Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the association. “For months, the administration threatened to impose on manufacturers an even harsher rule, with even more devastating consequences. After an unprecedented level of outreach by manufacturers and other stakeholders, the worst-case scenario was avoided.”
But, Timmons said, the new ozone standard will destroy job opportunities for American workers. He called on Congress to “step up and take a stand for working families.”
The ozone standard fulfills a long-delayed campaign promise by President Barack Obama, according to The Washington Post article “EPA Sets New Ozone Standard, Disappointing All Sides.” “After pledging during his first presidential campaign to tighten ozone limits, Obama backtracked in 2011 by yanking the EPA’s proposed ozone limits amid intense pressure from industry and the GOP.”
McCarthy said local communities, states, and the federal government have made progress in reducing ground-level ozone. From 1980 to 2014, average ozone levels have fallen 33 percent. By 2025, the EPA estimates that existing rules and programs will bring the majority of the remaining counties into compliance.
Advances in pollution control technology for vehicles and industry along with other emission reduction standards, including “Tier 3” clean vehicle and fuels standards, the Clean Power Plan, and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will reduce smog-forming emissions, helping states meet the updated ozone standards, she said.
To ensure that people are alerted when ozone reaches unhealthy levels, the EPA is extending the ozone monitoring season for 32 states and the District of Columbia.
The EPA also is strengthening the “secondary ozone standard” to 70 ppb, which will improve protection for trees, plants, and ecosystems. New studies add to evidence showing that repeated exposure to ozone reduces growth and has other harmful effects on plants and trees.
The Clean Air Act provides states with time to meet the standards. Depending on the severity of their ozone problem, areas would have until between 2020 and 2037 to meet the standards.