In a major victory for clean air and public health, a federal district court in March 2003 approved a court settlement that will improve cleanup of smog (ozone) in communities across the country. The settlement, reached between a coalition of health and environmental groups and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will kick off a long-delayed process for lowering ozone levels to meet new national air quality standards issued in 1997.
The groups that brought the legal action on behalf of millions of Americans include the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club. Earthjustice represented these organizations in the lawsuit. Five state and regional groups, including the Alabama Environmental Council, Clean Air Council, Michigan Environmental Council, Ohio Environmental Council, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, also participated in the suit, represented by the Clean Air Task Force.
The court settlement requires EPA to formally determine, by April 2004, which areas have smog that violates the 1997 national air quality standards for ozone. Once EPA makes those determinations, state and local governments will be called on to prepare smog cleanup plans adequate to meet the standards.
The 1997 ozone standards are based on years of scientific review and mounting evidence of the public health risk. Ozone is a powerful irritant that leaves the lungs inflamed, as though they were sunburned. Ozone causes asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing and other respiratory distress, and is linked to increased use of medications, hospitalizations, and emergency room visits. EPA issued the more protective 1997 ozone standard in response to numerous scientific studies showing that ozone levels low enough to comply with the previous ozone standard -- levels experienced each year by millions of people around the nation -- are still high enough to cause significant health impacts. Implementation of the 1997 standards will prevent thousands of asthma attacks, hospitalizations, and asthma-related emergency room visits each year.