New Attacks on Smog Safeguards Launched Just As a New Health Study Underscores the Dangers of Smog

June 30, 2017
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396,

(Washington, D.C. – June 30, 2017) Two branches of government each launched an effort to undermine protections against smog this week – the same week that a study in the New England Journal of Medicine presented new evidence about the danger of smog to human health.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will delay the first step in implementing its new, more health-protective standards for ground-level ozone (more commonly known as smog). That announcement was just published in the Federal Register. EPA issued more health-protective air quality standards for smog two years ago, and faces a legal deadline to determine what areas are meeting those standards this October, but Administrator Scott Pruitt announced he would delay the process by one year and postpone efforts to reduce smog-causing pollution in those communities that are currently experiencing dangerous ground-level ozone levels.   

Also this week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the Ozone Standards Implementation Act (H.R. 806) – which would delay those stronger smog standards until 2025. The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Pete Olson of Texas, would prevent EPA from improving allowed limits on the pollution that causes smog – from the current eight-hour standard of 75 parts per billion of ground-level ozone to the safer standard of 70 parts per billion established in 2015.

“The irony is hard to miss,” said Mandy Warner, Senior Manager of Climate and Air Policy for Environmental Defense Fund. “Lawmakers are rolling back some of our most critical health protections at the exact moment that we’re getting compelling new evidence that we need them. We already know that stronger smog protections will prevent 230,000 childhood asthma attacks every year, will reduce other serious lung diseases, and will prevent hundreds of premature deaths. There’s no good reason to put the health of American families at risk longer.”

The new study that was just published in the New England Journal of Medicine is from researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and it one of the largest and most comprehensive studies of the health effects of air pollution ever done.

The study looks at the entire Medicare population in the U.S. – almost 61 million people, more than 96 percent of all people over the age of 65 – from the years 2000 to 2012. It found that exposure to two types of air pollution, including ground-level ozone, increases the risk of death in that entire population even at levels lower than those currently set by EPA. The risk increased more for those with lower incomes.

The study found that reducing smog, even in areas below EPA’s 2015 ozone standard of 70 parts per billion, would save thousands of lives among America’s seniors:

    • Reducing the annual summer average of ground-level ozone by just one part per billion would save 1,900 lives each year
    • Reducing the annual summer average of ground-level ozone by five parts per billion  would save 9,537 lives each year

“A lot of the initial coverage of this study focused on the health benefits of reducing a second pollutant, fine particulate matter. But the health benefits from reducing ground-level ozone are just stunning,” said EDF Health Scientist Ananya Roy. “This is clear and convincing evidence that stronger, more protective standards will save the lives of thousands of American seniors — and that’s in addition to the known health benefits for children and other people. There is no scientifically-sound reason to allow more smog in our air. In fact, we should be making the standard more protective.”

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