Current U.S. smog standard, set in 2008, is the first one that’s stricter than the original limit set in 1971.SHARE THIS:
RANDLETT, Utah — Mountains sweep up from a landscape of red dirt and brown scrub. Pump jacks nod, pulling oil and gas from the ground. Deer dart toward a river. Trucks swish by, a few at a time, past the Ute Indian reservation.
It’s an unlikely place to find ozone levels that sometimes rival those of smoggy Los Angeles.
Too-high ozone, it turns out, bedevils communities across the United States. It’s not limited to the urban centers that have struggled for decades to reduce the lung-damaging air pollutant, created when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds bake in the sun.
There’s ozone above the federal standard in smaller cities such as Cincinnati, Ohio, and Middletown, Connecticut. Because the stuff doesn’t stay put, it’s often worse in suburbs than car-clogged downtowns. And it’s over the threshold in parts of the Mountain West, exactly where you’d expect the air would be cleanest.
But even that fails to capture the full picture. For almost a decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s independent scientific advisory committee of researchers and doctors has said the nation’s ozone standard is too lenient, a point of view backed by the
American Academy of Pediatrics and other health groups.
That means people in a wide swath of the country breathe air that doesn’t violate any rules — and thus doesn’t trigger any warnings — and yet, according to research, is unhealthy. That’s particularly true for the young, the elderly, people with lung diseases and outdoor workers. As ozone rises, even to levels below the EPA’s 75-parts-per-billion threshold, studies have found increased asthma attacks and respiratory-driven hospital visits. There’s also growing evidence that ozone can affect the heart, increasing the risk of
“The science is showing how much more harmful ozone is than we previously thought,” said Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of national policy for the American Lung Association, which sued the EPA to press the agency to act.
The EPA’s advisory committee has said since 2006 that the standard should be between 60 and 70 ppb. In November, the EPA proposed a range of 65 to 70 ppb, saying it would save both medical costs and lives.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to tighten its standard for ozone, the lung-damaging gas in smog. It’s considering a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion, any part of which would put a significantly broader swath of the country out of compliance, requiring government agencies and industry in those places to step up pollution-control efforts. This map shows which counties measured ozone levels below and above the proposed limit, including which areas topped the current 75 ppb standard, during 2011-2013. Click on counties for more information.