Wednesday, March 12, 2008

EPA Strengthens Smog Standards

Today EPA signed the most stringent 8-hour standard ever for ozone, revising the standards for the first time in more than a decade. The agency based the changes on the most recent scientific evidence about the effects of ozone, the primary component of smog. This action meets the requirement of the Clean Air Act and strengthens the national standard for ozone. The new primary 8-hour standard is 0.075 parts per million (ppm) (75 parts per billion -ppb) and the new secondary standard is set at a form and level identical to the primary standard.

The EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which includes members from academia and private research institutions, recommended the standard be set between 60 and 70 parts per billion of ozone in order to protect human health. The previous primary and secondary standards were identical 8-hour standards, set at 0.08 ppm. Because ozone is measured out to three decimal places, the standard effectively became 0.084 ppm: areas with ozone levels as high as 0.084 ppm were considered as meeting the 0.08 ppm standard, because of rounding.

EPA will be sending Congress four principles to guide legislative changes to the Clean Air Act. According to EPA, these changes are needed to modernize the Clean Air Act. The four principles recommend that the Clean Air Act and the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS):

1) must protect the public health and improve the overall well-being of our citizens;
2) should allow decision-makers to consider benefits, costs,risk tradeoffs, and feasibility in making decisions about how to cleanthe air;
3) should provide greater accountability and effective enforcement to ensure not only paper requirements but also air qualityrequirements are met, especially in areas
with the furthest to go in meeting our standards;
4) should allow the schedule for addressing NAAQS standards to be driven by the available science and the prioritization of health and environmental concerns, taking into account the multi-pollutant nature of air pollution.
The U.S. has made significant progress reducing ground-levelo zone across the country and EPA expects improvement to continue, as a result of regulations such as the Clean Air Interstate Rule, to reduce emissions from power plants in the East, and the Clean Diesel Program, to reduce emissions from highway, nonroad and stationary diesel engines nationwide.

Ozone can harm people’s lungs, and AAEA is particularly concerned about individuals with asthma or other lung diseases, as well as those who spend a lot of time outside, such as children. Ozone exposure can aggravate asthma, resulting in increased medication use and emergency room visits, and it can increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. Ground-level ozone is not emitted directly into the air, but forms when emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)“cook” in the sun. Power plants, motor vehicle exhaust, industrial facilities, gasoline vapors and chemical solvents are the majorhuman-made sources of these emissions.

EPA estimates that the final standards will yield health benefits valued between $2 billion and $19 billion. Those benefits include preventing cases of bronchitis, aggravated asthma, hospital and emergency roomvisits, nonfatal heart attacks and premature death, among others. EPA’s Regulatory Impact analysis shows that benefits are likely greater than the cost of implementing the standards. Cost estimates range from $7.6 billion to $8.5 billion. As part of today’s action, EPA also has updated the Air Quality Index(AQI) for ozone to reflect the change in the health standard. The AQI is EPA’s color-coded tool for communicating daily air quality to the public.

For more details on the revised standards, visit: Ground Level Ozone. For more on the AQI and to see daily air quality forecasts, visit: Air Now (See Also The Washington Post)

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