About Air and Water

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Feds plan to boost ozone standards

By SCOTT STREATER - Fort Worth Star-Telgram - Thu, Jun. 21, 2007

The federal government announced Thursday that it plans to significantly strengthen ozone regulations, concluding that the current health-based standard fails to protect the public from the damaging effects of the lung-scarring pollutant.

Regional leaders have warned that a substantially stricter federal ozone standard could force them to take dramatic steps to lower pollution, including adopting restrictions on driving activity in North Texas, as well as placing additional restrictions on industrial operations.

But just how significant those restrictions could be won’t be known until the standard is finalized in March. That’s because the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a range of alternatives, from substantially lowering the acceptable threshold of ozone that’s considered safe to breathe, to only a modest revision of the existing standard.

The EPA will conduct a series of public hearings across the country during the next few months to gather feedback before setting the new standard.

The new standard would not go into effect before June 2010.

The current standard mandates that average daily ozone levels cannot exceed 85 parts per billion over any eight-hour period.

But the agency’s own science advisory committee last year recommended the acceptable threshold for ozone be lowered to no more than 70 parts per billion, arguing that recent studies show the existing standard fails to protect those most sensitive to ozone pollution: children, older adults, people who work outdoors and people with respiratory problems.

The EPA’s proposal calls for lowering the ozone threshold to between 70-75 parts per billion.

"I have concluded that the current standard is insufficient to protect public health,” said EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson during a teleconference early Thursday with reporters. “I do not believe there is scientific evidence for retaining the current standard.”

Last year, air monitors in Dallas-Fort Worth measured ozone concentrations of 70 parts per billion or greater 642 times over 73 days, a review of state ozone data shows.
Setting the standard at 70 parts per billion could reduce exposures that produce health problems nationwide by as much as 90 percent, said Lydia Wegman, director of the EPA’s health and environmental impacts division.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which does not meet the existing ozone standard, regional leaders warn that dramatic new steps may be needed to lower pollution, such as restricting the number of days people could drive their cars, limiting when construction equipment could be operated and possibly shutting down drive-through windows during peak ozone season, state and regional leaders said.
In addition, further steps would need to be taken to lower ozone-forming pollutants from industrial sources, such as local cement kilns as well as power plants in East Texas. Even if dramatic steps are taken locally, however, that might be enough. Steps would have to be taken in other states to lower pollution emissions that blow into North Texas each day and that impact regional air quality. Ozone review

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is under a federal court mandate to review the ozone standard to ensure it adequately protects public health and the environment.
The American Lung Association and other groups threatened to sue the EPA in 2003, saying the ozone standard set in 1997 is no longer sufficient to protect children, older adults, people with respiratory ailments and people who work outside.

To resolve that case, the EPA agreed to review the standard in light of new research that indicates that ozone concentrations can be well below the health-based standard and still trigger asthma attacks and inflame the conditions of those suffering from a host of other respiratory ailments.

What’s next

The EPA will hold a series of public hearings across the country beginning in August to discuss the proposal. The only public hearing in Texas will be Sept. 5 in Houston, which has the state’s most severe ozone problem.

By June 2009, Texas and other states will recommend to the EPA which areas cannot meet the new standard.
The new standard would take effect by June 2010.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency Ground-level ozone

The federal government regulates ozone levels as a health concern.

At high concentrations, ozone can trigger asthma attacks, stunt lung development in children and aggravate bronchitis, emphysema and other respiratory problems.

There are nine counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth nonattainment area: Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Johnson, Kaufman, Parker, Rockwall and Tarrant.

Ozone, the main ingredient in smog, needs lots of sunlight and heat to form. For that reason, ozone season in Dallas-Fort Worth runs from May through October.

Ozone is produced when nitrogen oxides mix with volatile organic compounds. Those come mostly from automobile exhaust and industry smokestacks. Trees also produce the organic compounds as part of photosynthesis.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency
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