EPA to Undertake New Review of Smog Pollution Standards

Delay Will Leave Millions of Americans Exposed to Harmful Levels of Smog Pollution

August 21, 2023
Sharyn Stein, 202-905-5718, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – August 21, 2023) Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it will undertake a full, new review of the national, health-based standards for ground-level ozone pollution – commonly called smog.  

“People across the country face serious health risks from ground-level ozone pollution, and the scientific evidence – including very recent recommendations from EPA’s independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee – makes crystal clear that a stronger standard is urgently needed to protect communities,” said Peter Zalzal, EDF’s Associate Vice President for Clean Air Strategies. “We are deeply disappointed that today’s decision will delay adopting a stronger standard, leaving millions of people across the country, including the most vulnerable populations, exposed to harmful levels of air pollution.”

The current national standard for ground-level ozone pollution is 70 parts per billion, which the prior administration chose to maintain despite an extensive body of scientific evidence that shows serious health effects from ground-level ozone exposure at levels below that standard. In 2021, EPA had decided to reconsider that decision.

Today, EPA decided to incorporate that reconsideration into a new review of the standards, which will delay adoption of these urgently needed safeguards. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review standards every 5 years.  EPA completed its last review of the ozone standards in December of 2020, and it is vital that EPA update standards by December of 2025 as required by law.

EPA’s decision comes after a June 9th letter from EPA’s independent Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, in which the committee found that the current standard was not adequate to protect public health and recommended a substantially stronger standard “in the range of 55 to 60 ppb to be protective of public health.”  CASAC noted its recommendations were “based on consideration of all of the scientific evidence … and considering the need to protect children, people with asthma, outdoor workers, and other at-risk populations.”

Ground-level ozone forms through the reaction between heat, sunlight, and certain pollutants. These pollutants (including volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides) mainly come from vehicles, power plants, industrial facilities, and oil and gas pollution.

Ground-level ozone pollution significantly increases the risk of serious heart and lung diseases and causes premature deaths. There is strong evidence of ground-level ozone pollution causing increased hospital admissions and emergency department visits for asthma and respiratory infections and possibly increasing rates of asthma development.

“It is vital that EPA move forward rapidly to put in place a protective new ozone standard by December of 2025 that helps to ensure all Americans, including those in our most vulnerable communities, are no longer exposed to harmful levels of smog,” said Zalzal.

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