EPA Strengthens Ozone Standards

The standards will tighten the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion, down from from 75 ppb, in order to protect public health. Depending on the severity of their ozone problem, areas would have until between 2020 and 2037 to meet the standards.

EPA on Oct. 1 announced that it is going forward with standards to tighten the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground-level ozone to 70 parts per billion (ppb), down from from 75 ppb, in order to protect public health. Depending on the severity of their ozone problem, areas would have until between 2020 and 2037 to meet the standards.

Ground-level ozone forms when nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds react in the air.

"Put simply, ozone pollution means it hurts to breathe for those most vulnerable: our kids, our elderly, and those suffering from heart and lung ailments," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. "Our job is to set science-backed standards that protect the health of the American people. Today's action is one of the most important measures we can take for improving public health, reducing the costs of illness and protecting our children's health."

The agency examined nearly 2,300 studies in its review of the ozone standards, including more than 1,000 new studies published since the last review of the standards in 2008. "Scientific evidence shows that ozone can cause a number of harmful effects on the respiratory system, including difficulty breathing and inflammation of the airways. The revised standards will significantly improve public health protection, resulting in fewer premature deaths, and thousands fewer missed school and work days and asthma attacks. For people with lung diseases like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or the 23 million Americans and 6 million children living with asthma, these effects can aggravate their diseases, leading to increased medication use, emergency room visits and hospital admissions. Evidence also indicates that long-term exposure to ozone is likely to be one of many causes of asthma development. And studies show that ozone exposure is likely to cause premature death. The public health benefits of the updated standards, estimated at $2.9 to $5.9 billion annually in 2025, outweigh the estimated annual costs of $1.4 billion," according to EPA's release about the standards.

In addition, to ensure people are alerted when ozone reaches unhealthy levels, EPA is extending the ozone monitoring season for 32 states and the District of Columbia and is strengthening the "secondary ozone standard" to 70 ppb, which will improve protection for trees, plants, and ecosystems.

The agency received more than 430,000 written comments on the proposed standards and held three public hearings.

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