This week the EPA announced a proposal for a drastic cut in ground-level ozone standards in the U.S. in a bid to prevent air-quality-related health issues and reduce environmental impacts. Currently, the allowable level of ozone is 75 parts per billion (ppb). The EPA proposes reducing this to at least 65 to 70 ppb, and the agency is taking comments on the possibility of reducing the standard to 60 ppb. Of the costs to implement the proposed measures the EPA argues that “every dollar we invest to meet them will return up to three dollars in health benefits.”
The new proposals were announced at a press conference on Wednesday by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. McCarthy stated: “Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air, improve access to crucial air quality information, and protect those most at risk. It empowers the American people with updated air quality information to protect our loved ones — because whether we work or play outdoors — we deserve to know the air we breathe is safe.”
The EPA reviews air quality standards every five years, as required by the Clean Air Act. Reviews follow a “set of open, transparent steps and considering the advice of a panel of independent experts.” This process includes public comment on the proposals. The EPA last updated the standards in 2008, when they were set at the current 75 ppb. Since then, EPA scientists have reviewed more than 1,000 studies on the effects of ozone and smog. The studies indicated that the current allowable level of 75 ppb “can pose serious threats to public health, harm the respiratory system, cause or aggravate asthma and other lung diseases, and is linked to premature death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes,” hence the recommendation for tighter controls.
The EPA says that “large health benefits will be gained from avoiding asthma attacks, heart attacks, missed school days and premature deaths, among other health effects.” The estimated savings in health costs are calculated at $6.4 to $13 billion per annum by 2025 if the ground-ozone standard is dropped to 70 ppb, and $19 to $38 billion per annum by 2025 if the standard becomes 65 ppb. The costs of implementing tighter controls are estimated at $3.9 billion in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $15 billion for a standard of 65 ppb. The EPA plans to hold three public hearings on the proposed changes, visit the EPA website for further details.