Archives for posts with tag: ozone

From Los Angeles Times:

To understand the latest brouhaha about safe levels of ozone, it helps to understand the difference between science and policy.

First the back story. In 2008, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Stephen Johnson, reduced the allowable level of ozone in the air from 84 parts per billion to 75 ppb. Johnson said the change would lead to cleaner air and improve public health.

However, the EPA’s independent advisory panel had recommended that the limit be set even lower, in the range of 60 ppb to 70 ppb. Critics, including scientists, environmental advocates and medical associations, such as the American Thoracic Society, accused Johnson and the George W. Bush administration of prioritizing the economic concerns of polluters over the interests of the general public.

Depending on your point of view, you may see things Johnson’s way or you may side with his critics. But the process worked exactly as it was supposed to, with scientists analyzing the data and policymakers exercising their authority to take other factors into consideration, says Dr. Roger McClellan, a toxicologist and former chairman of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. “They were an advisory panel, not a standard-setting panel,” he says.

Fast-forward to the Obama administration. Lisa Jackson is now the EPA administrator, and she wanted to revisit the ozone standard. She asked the current members of the advisory panel to take another look at the data, and they agreed with the previous panel’s conclusion that lowering the standard to between 60 ppb and 70 ppb range would have beneficial effects on public health. In a 2010 regulatory impact analysis report, the agency estimated that setting the limit at 70 ppb would prevent about 2,200 heart attacks, 23,000 asthma attacks and between 1,500 and 4,300 premature deaths each year; a limit of 60 ppb would avert 5,300 heart attacks, 58,000 asthma attacks and 4,000 to 12,000 premature deaths.

So this month, when President Obama put the kibosh on any reconsideration of the ozone standard, all those who railed before railed again.

The Clean Air Act mandates that the standards for certain pollutants, including ozone, be revisited every five years. So even as the advisory panel was digging into the old reports to answer Jackson’s queries, its members have also started reviewing more recent evidence for 2013, says the current committee chairman, Dr. Jonathan Samet, professor of preventive medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine.

Here’s a closer look at the scientific case against ozone.

What is ozone?

Ozone is the main component of smog and is created when certain volatile chemicals emitted from cars and factories react with sunlight. The ozone level in Southern California frequently is higher than the EPA standard, with the South Coast Air Basin out of compliance on 109 days last year, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

How is ozone harmful to health?

Ozone is a gas that you inhale with the surrounding air. It can cause irritation and inflammation of the airways as well as coughing and shortness of breath. These effects depend on the concentration of ozone in the air you’re breathing, how rapidly and deeply you’re breathing and your own sensitivity to the pollutant.

Researchers have documented wide variability in people’s symptoms when they are exposed to controlled levels of ozone. These experiments usually have young, healthy nonsmokers breathing high concentrations of ozone — greater than 80 ppb and sometimes as high as 120 ppb — for six to eight hours. Subjects spend up to half of that time exercising, forcing them to inhale more of the pollutant.

The EPA panel said it was a “scientific certainty” that under these conditions, ozone decreases lung function (as measured by the amount of air a person breathes out when exhaling as hard as possible). The decline, of at least 10%, may sound small, but it is considered “clinically relevant,” according to the American Thoracic Society. Even when ozone levels were only 60 ppb, one study found that two out of 30 healthy subjects had at least a 10% decrease in lung function and six others showed symptoms of respiratory distress. That report was published in 2006 in the journal Inhalation Toxicology.

Who is most at risk?

The problem worsens for certain groups of people, notably children, seniors and those with asthma or other respiratory health issues.

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What are the public health consequences of having too much ozone?

Researchers in real-world settings have correlated ozone-level spikes to increased mortality and greater numbers of emergency room visits for respiratory problems.

For example, Delfino and his colleagues studied more than 23,000 emergency room admissions at 25 Montreal hospitals in the summer of 1993. They found that on days after the ozone level was at or above the average of 36 ppb, the number of older patients with respiratory symptoms who came to the ER jumped by 21%. However, ER visits for patients younger than 64 with respiratory symptoms or for patients with other kinds of health problems did not vary with ozone level. The results were published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

“Hundreds of similar studies have been done throughout the world,” Delfino says.

More.

From Associated Press:

In a dramatic reversal, President Barack Obama on Friday scrubbed a clean-air regulation that aimed to reduce health-threatening smog, yielding to bitterly protesting businesses and congressional Republicans who complained the rule would kill jobs in America’s ailing economy.

Withdrawal of the proposed regulation marked the latest in a string of retreats by the president in the face of GOP opposition, and it drew quick criticism from liberals. Environmentalists, a key Obama constituency, accused him of caving to corporate polluters, and the American Lung Association threatened to restart the legal action it had begun against rules proposed by President George W. Bush.

The White House has been under heavy pressure from GOP lawmakers and major industries, which have slammed the stricter standard as an unnecessary jobs killer. The Environmental Protection Agency, whose scientific advisers favored the tighter limits, had predicted the proposed change would cost up to $90 billion a year, making it one of the most expensive environmental regulations ever imposed in the U.S.

However, the Clean Air Act bars the EPA from considering the costs of complying when setting public health standards.

Obama said his decision was made in part to reduce regulatory burdens and uncertainty at a time of rampant questions about the strength of the U.S. economy.

Underscoring the economic concerns: a new report Friday that showed the economy essentially adding no jobs in August and the unemployment rate stubbornly stuck at 9.1 percent.

The regulation would have reduced concentrations of ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, a powerful lung irritant that can cause asthma and other lung ailments. Smog is created when emissions from cars, power and chemical plants, refineries and other factories mix in sunlight and heat.

Republican lawmakers, already emboldened by Obama’s concessions on extending Bush-era tax cuts and his agreement to more than $1 trillion in spending reductions as the price for raising the nation’s debt ceiling, had pledged to try to block the stricter smog standards as well as other EPA regulations when they returned to Washington after Labor Day.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had muted praise for the White House Friday, saying that withdrawal of the smog regulation was a good first step toward removing obstacles that are blocking business growth.

“But it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stopping Washington Democrats’ agenda of tax hikes, more government ‘stimulus’ spending and increased regulations, which are all making it harder to create more American jobs,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the move was “an enormous victory for America’s job creators, the right decision by the president and one that will help reduce the uncertainty facing businesses.”

White House officials said the president’s decision was not the product of industry pressure, and they said the administration would continue to fight other efforts by Republicans to dismantle the EPA’s authority.

But that was little consolation for many of the president’s supporters. The group MoveOn.org issued a scathing statement, saying Obama’s decision was one it would have expected from his Republican predecessor.

“Many MoveOn members are wondering today how they can ever work for President Obama’s re-election, or make the case for him to their neighbors, when he does something like this, after extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich and giving in to tea party demands on the debt deal,” said Justin Ruben, the group’s executive director.

The American Lung Association, which had sued the EPA over Bush’s smog standards, said it would resume its legal fight now that Obama was essentially endorsing the weaker limit. The group had suspended its lawsuit after the Obama administration pledged to change it.

More.

From the New York Times:

Recent studies suggest that smog-filled air kills more people and causes more breathing problems than previously thought, U.S. EPA scientists say in a new draft paper, but due to a procedural twist, the findings can’t be taken into account as Administrator Lisa Jackson decides whether to set stricter limits than the George W. Bush administration chose in 2008.

The new research provides stronger evidence that short-term spikes in ground-level ozone can cause premature death, according to the 996-page scientific assessment, which was released late Friday. And on top of that, EPA scientists found evidence that long-term exposure could lead to more premature deaths — a conclusion that was not reached when the agency last reviewed the state of smog science in 2006.

It is well-established that ozone can have health effects at the current limit of 84 parts per billion (ppb), which still has not been met in parts of the Northeast, much of Southern California and industrial cities such as Houston. According to the assessment, recent studies found a robust link between health effects and smog levels below either the current limit or the standard of 75 ppb that was selected by the last administration.

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