The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that it is recommending a more stringent federal smog (ozone) standard for ambient air quality. Based upon an analysis of the latest scientific research on the effects of ozone on human health and the environment, EPA is proposing to lower the 8-hour standard from its current level of 75 parts per billion (ppb) to somewhere in the range of 65 – 70 ppb. EPA is also considering lowering the limit to a level as low as 60 ppb.
If a number less than 70 ppb is adopted, the new limits will be even more stringent than the existing California standard of 70 ppb. If adopted, the standards should impact control requirements for industrial, commercial, transportation, and other sources here in Bakersfield, the San Joaquin Valley, and the rest of California. Currently, the San Joaquin Valley fails to meet either the existing state or federal standards for ozone.
EPA is required under the federal Clean Air Act to review the standards every five years. The review is subject to public scrutiny and relies upon the advice of independent, scientific experts. The last review was done in 2008, after which EPA lowered the standard to its current level.
The new review looked at over 1,000 new scientific studies that have been published since 2008. The studies indicated that exposure to ambient ozone at levels less than the current standard can threaten public health. These levels can harm the respiratory system, cause or aggravate lung diseases such as asthma, and is linked to premature death. People most at risk are children, older adults, people who are active or work outside, and those with asthma.
Asthma is a serious problem here in the San Joaquin Valley, which has some of the highest rates of asthma symptoms and asthma-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations in California. According to EPA, 1 in 10 children nationwide has asthma.
Ozone is formed in the atmosphere as the result of a photochemical reaction between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Common sources include power plants, refineries, oil field operations, and the burning of transportation fuels, among other sources.
“Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air, improve access to crucial air quality information, and protect those most at-risk. It empowers the American people with updated air quality information to protect our loved ones – because whether we work or play outdoors – we deserve to know the air we breathe is safe,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act has always been EPA’s responsibility. Our health protections have endured because they’re engineered to evolve, so that’s why we’re using the latest science to update air quality standards – to fulfill the law’s promise, and defend each and every person’s right to clean air.”