The prospect for cleaner air across the nation took a step closer to reality on July 31, 2003, with court approval of a settlement between the Environmental Protection Agency and a coalition of environmental and public health groups. Under the settlement the EPA has agreed to a schedule for reviewing national standards for soot and smog pollution levels and strengthening them if appropriate.
The air quality standards to be reviewed were set in 1997, in response to data showing that the previous standards were inadequate to protect public health and welfare. The Clean Air Act requires that these health-based standards be reviewed -- and as appropriate, revised -- every five years to ensure that they reflect the latest scientific research.
Over the past five years research has shown that soot and smog pollution is even more dangerous to public health than previously thought, making the EPA review even more crucial. Particulate pollution has been linked to a variety of heart and lung ailments, leading to premature deaths, hospitalizations, emergency room visits, respiratory symptoms, and missed work and school days. The elderly and those with preexisting lung and heart impairments are especially vulnerable to these profound health effects.
Dr. John Balbus, a physician who heads the environmental health program at Environmental Defense emphasized: "Policies to protect the air we breathe must be based on the best available scientific research and the goal of this settlement is to guarantee that the nation's air quality standards do in fact protect public health."