As sure as April brings showers and May brings flowers, June brings ozone pollution warnings. These alerts come to us by way of air quality reports in our local weather forecasts, and they let us know when ground-level ozone pollution, the primary component of smog, reaches a dangerous level in the air we breathe. We see the alerts almost exclusively in the summer because sunlight and hot weather spur chemical reactions between air pollutants, thereby forming ground-level ozone and, in turn, smog.
Smog, then, fills the air until it’s hard for some of us to breathe, especially babies and children, whose lungs are more delicate and less developed. Babies, children, senior citizens, and people who suffer from asthma, allergies, breathing problems, and lung disease bear the brunt of the suffering from smog, but scientific research shows us that no matter how healthy, we all are vulnerable to this dangerous pollutant.
Anyone who spends time outdoors in the summer may be affected, and millions of Americans live in areas where the national ozone health standards are exceeded. (Conversely, ozone in the upper atmosphere — the good kind of ozone — forms a layer that protects life on earth from the sun’s harmful rays.)
Today until midnight, March 22, is final day of the EPA’s public comment period for this ozone pollution standard. Please join tens of thousands of others and take a moment to send EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson a message, urging her to adopt the strongest possible standards for ozone pollution.
According to the EPA, the first signals of exposure to ozone pollution are chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma; reduce lung function; inflame the linings of the lungs; and cause permanent scarring of lung tissue. Ozone pollution has been linked to premature deaths, thousands of emergency room visits, and tens of thousands of asthma attacks each year. Read about more personal stories of suffering from ozone pollution here.
Scientists have also found that ozone pollution causes significant damage to plants, hindering plant growth, and making them more susceptible to disease. According to the EPA, in the United States alone, ozone is responsible for an estimated $500 million in reduced crop production each year. But it’s not just crops that are at stake here; the National Park Service recognizes ground-level ozone as a major threat to our national parks and forests and is calling for strong standards, too.
By way of the Clean Air Act, the EPA has been regulating ground-level ozone pollution since 1997. Two years ago, the EPA scientific advisory committee recommended stronger standards based on widespread scientific evidence of its harmful effect on public health, but the Bush Administration in the end adopted weaker standards than what was recommended even by its own science advisors, prompting a court challenge by Earthjustice on behalf of public health and conservation groups.
Obama’s EPA has agreed to consider a new range of standards, allowing Earthjustice to put its lawsuit on hold. Adopting a standard at the strong end of the proposed range would represent a significant move on behalf of the Obama administration to protect the American people, children especially. However, the weak end of the range would still pose significant health threats for millions of Americans. Read more about this upcoming ozone pollution standard and its effects on public health.
Take action now, during these final few hours, and tell the EPA to protect our health and our national treasures — our children and our prized wilderness.