Though delayed, new ozone standard is a step forward in improving public health

Tightening the national standard for ozone pollution is critical for improving air quality and public health, particularly for children, the elderly, and those with heart or lung conditions.  (© Amy Benoit)

The Environmental Protection Agency announced today it has tightened the new ozone pollution standard to 70 parts per billion (ppb), marking belated, incremental progress in the ongoing efforts to reduce air pollution and improve public health.

Ground-level ozone, or smog, is a colorless, odorless gas that can trigger respiratory issues such as asthma attacks and cause other health complications, particularly for those with lung and heart disease. In the South, as is the case for most of the country, car exhaust and emissions from power plants are the largest sources of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, the primary contributors to ozone pollution.

“Today’s announcement serves as reminder that decisions about how much we drive and where our electricity comes from are also decisions about our health, particularly for the most vulnerable among us.  Across the region, the success we’ve seen in lowering ozone levels over the past few years -- while the economy has kept growing -- can continue if we make smart state and local decisions about our energy and transportation investments,” said Frank Rambo, leader of SELC’s Clean Energy and Air Program.

EPA last revised the ozone standard in 2008 to 75 ppb, despite independent scientific advisory board recommendations that health studies showed the need for a limit in the range of 60-70 ppb. The agency failed to follow through on a promise to revisit the standard in 2011. 

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