Environment: EPA faces ozone lawsuit

Toxic haze kills millions worldwide

Toxic air pollution kills millions of people each year. Photo courtesy National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Staff Report

There’s little question that air pollution is one of the biggest killers on the planet. Some recent estimates place the number of global deaths attributed to airborne toxins anywhere between 3.3 to 7 million per year, and that number is expected to go up by 15 to 20 percent in the next few decades.

And while countries with developing economies like China and India have the biggest problems, the U.S. is not immune from poisonous pollutants, especially invisible ozone. In some parts of the country, ozone pollution is getting worse, not better. The EPA has tried to tackle ozone pollution by setting new standards, but faced resistance from industrial polluters.

As a result, watchdog groups say the agency has fallen short, and the Center for Biological Diversity says it will sue the EPA because 17 states and the District of Columbia have failed to reduce ozone pollution, which poses serious threats to public health, wildlife and ecosystems. Essentially, environmental activists say the EPA has failed to meet standards set under the Clean Air Act.

“Millions of Americans are being unjustly denied the chance to live in communities with clean air and clear skies,” said Jonathan Evans, Environmental Health legal director at the Center. “The Clean Air Act saves lives, protects wildlife and clears up smoggy skies, but only when polluters are forced to clean up their act.”

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to identify and set “national ambient air quality standards” for pollutants such as ozone. In 2008 the EPA set clean air standards for ozone and required areas to meet those standards by July 20, 2015. More than seven years later, 17 states and Washington, D.C., have failed to reduce ozone pollution to healthy levels and the EPA has failed to enforce deadlines to ensure that dirty areas are cleaning up their skies.

“Ozone silently attacks our lungs, needlessly increasing emergency room visits and deaths for the children and elderly who are the most vulnerable to air pollution,” said Evans. “The EPA needs to take steps right now to implement the Clean Air Act to save lives and protect the environment from the scourge of smog and ozone pollution.”

People exposed to excess ozone may experience reduced lung function, increased respiratory problems like asthma, increased visits to emergency rooms, and potentially premature death. For trees, cumulative ozone exposure can lead to reduced growth and visibly injured leaves, as well as increased susceptibility to disease, damage from insects and harsh weather. Sensitive tree species that are at risk from ozone exposure include trees such as black cherry, quaking aspen, ponderosa pine and cottonwood.

Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., have failed to achieve air quality standards for ozone. This includes six California counties (Imperial, Kern, Mariposa, Nevada, San Luis Obispo and San Diego); the greater metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburg and St. Louis; the city of Sheboygan; and the entire state of Connecticut.



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