2015: The Year of New Public Health Standards for Ozone

Guest Blog | January 8, 2015 | Coal, Energy Policy

With only one month left in the year, the Environmental Protection Agency released its long awaited and updated proposed ground-level ozone standards on November 25, 2014.  EPA updated its ozone standard in order to ensure protection of public health based on extensive scientific evidence about ozone’s health effects – especially the impact it has on the elderly, children and anyone suffering from lung diseases like asthma.

Ozone also causes smog and is linked to respiratory illness, heart disease and premature death.  The new proposed ozone standard would lower the allowable amount of pollution from the current standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) to a range of 65 – 70 ppb.  As with most EPA regulations these days, Republicans and the fossil fuels industry have attacked these new ozone standards, but public health advocates, like the American Lung Association, have called for an even lower standard of 60 ppb in order to protect the public based on science that shows health impacts at even lower levels of exposure.

Ground-level ozone, the bad kind of ozone and the one regulated by EPA, is a harmful pollutant that poses a significant public health risk, especially for children with asthma. Stratospheric ozone, or the good kind of ozone, helps protect our planet from the sun’s harmful rays – and is not regulated by EPA. (For more information on the difference between these two types of ozone, you can access EPA’s “Good Up High, Bad Nearby”). Ground-level ozone is created when nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) combine in the presence of sunlight. One of the largest sources of NOx and VOCs, and subsequently ozone, are facilities that burn fossil fuels like coal-fired power plants.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA must set two types of outdoor air quality standards for ozone: a primary standard (to protect public health within an “adequate margin of safety” including the health of at-risk groups; and a secondary standard to protect the public welfare. The last time EPA updated these standards was in 2008 – 7 years ago. Under the new standards, states would have time to develop and implement plans to meet the lower ozone standard and EPA projections show the vast majority of the country would meet the new standards by 2025 with air quality programs already in place. To see if your area is currently in attainment for ozone and if it would be in attainment when the new standards go into effect, you can check out EPA’s ozone maps and learn more.

EPA is taking comment on both the proposed 65 – 70 ppb standard as well as on a the lower, more protective 60 ppb standard.  The public comment period is 90 days with a final decision expected by October 1, 2015.


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