(13 November 2002) Environmental Defense and several other organizations today announced the settlement of a lawsuit forcing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect more than 150 million people from harmful air pollution by implementing the national ozone (smog) public health standard established in 1997. Since 1997, EPA has failed to put these standards into effect. The settlement requires EPA to determine and publicly declare which areas of the country violate the 1997 standard by an April 2004 court-enforceable deadline. To meet the April 2004 deadline, EPA and affected states nationwide will need to immediately take steps to evaluate air quality monitoring data and other information to determine which areas will be declared in violation of the standard.
“EPA has strengthened the smog health standard — based on a body of compelling medical research — to better protect children, seniors, people with asthma and other vulnerable populations from serious respiratory ailments,” said Environmental Defense senior attorney Vickie Patton. “This settlement means that folks on all sides of the issue will need to roll up their sleeves and work together to expand efforts to protect the public from the harmful health impacts of smog.”
The 1997 standard is designed to protect children, seniors, people with asthma, and other vulnerable populations against decreased lung function, respiratory ailments, increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits for respiratory causes, inflammation of the lungs and possible long-term lung damage. In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected industry claims that EPA acted unlawfully in basing the standard solely on public health evidence. EPA was required to declare which areas of the U.S. violate the standard more than two years ago. The proposed settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period before it can be finalized.
Maricopa County, Arizona has recently made progress toward achieving the long-standing 1-hour ozone health standard but is not in compliance with the new ozone health standard adopted in 1997. The 1997 standard is 0.08 parts per million and compliance with the standard is based on a 3-year average of the fourth-highest daily maximum 8-hour ozone concentration. EPA’s most recent quality assured data indicate that the county violates the 1997 standard. See www.epa.gov/airtrends/data/AQupdate2001.pdf (table 4).
At least two-thirds of all Californians—21,150,000 people in 22 counties across the state—live in areas not meeting the more protective ozone standard (www.epa.gov/airtrends/data/AQupdate2001.pdf). Implementation of the more protective standard will achieve important public health benefits for Californians by: (1) requiring communities that already have high ozone levels to further reduce ozone-forming pollutants, and (2) requiring new communities, including cities throughout the San Joaquin Valley, to begin curbing ozone-forming pollutants.
Denver, Colorado has been in and out of compliance with the 1997 ozone health standard. The standard is 0.08 parts per million and compliance with the standard is based on a 3-year average of the fourth-highest daily maximum 8-hour ozone concentration. EPA data for 1998-2000 indicate that the Jefferson County monitor recorded violations of the health standard. See www.epa.gov/oar/aqtrnd00/carboz00.html (table 3). But EPA data for 1999-2001 indicate that all monitors in Denver were in compliance. See www.epa.gov/airtrends/data/AQupdate2001.pdf (table 4). The 13 ozone exceedances monitored in the summer of 2002, however, place Denver at serious risk of again violating the standard. And, there were six exceedances of the health standard in the summer of 2002 at the Longs Peak Ranger Station monitor in Rocky Mountain National Park. See www2.nature.nps.gov/ard/gas/exceed.htm
Harmful smog levels in the New York metropolitan region span several states. EPA data indicates that violations of the 1997 ozone health standard have been monitored in six counties in Connecticut (Fairfield, Hartford, Middlesex, New Haven, New London and Tolland), 12 counties in New Jersey (Atlantic, Camden, Cumberland, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean and Passaic), and 11 in New York (Chautauqua, Dutchess, Erie, Jefferson, Niagara, Orange, Putnam, Queens, Richmond, Suffolk, and Westchester). See www.epa.gov/airtrends/data/AQupdate2001.pdf. This estimate of the affected population is conservative, since a violation in a single county generally represents unhealthy exposure across many surrounding counties.
The smog levels in the south makes this region one of the most polluted in the country. EPA’s most recent data indicates that violations of the ozone health standard have been monitored in 22 counties in North Carolina, 15 counties in Tennessee, 14 counties in Georgia, 13 counties in Kentucky, nine counties in South Carolina, and four counties in Alabama (www.epa.gov/airtrends/data/AQupdate2001.pdf ). Collectively, this means that millions of children, seniors, people with asthma and other populations across the south are breathing smog levels that threaten their health.
EPA’s most recent data indicates that violations of the ozone health standard have been monitored in 12 counties in Texas including: Brazoria, Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Galveston, Gregg, Harris, Jefferson, Montgomery, Tarrant, and Travis (www.epa.gov/airtrends/data/AQupdate2001.pdf). This estimate of the affected population is conservative, since a violation in a single county generally represents unhealthy exposure across a broader metropolitan area.