Three Myths Pushed by Polluters to Avoid Improving Air Quality

We explore three myths fueled by distortions and misinformation that are key tactics in polluters' efforts to avoid cleaning up their air pollution.

Distortions and misinformation are key tactics in polluters' efforts to avoid cleaning up their pollution.
Under the Clean Air Act, EPA has an obligation to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for a number of common air pollutants including ground-level ozone. (Louis Vest / CC BY-NC 2.0)

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Just days ago, the National Association of Manufacturers, an organization representing factories and other major polluters, launched a multimillion dollar TV ad campaign aimed at keeping the EPA from strengthening federal health protections from ozone pollution. Distortions and misinformation is a key tactic in their effort to avoid cleaning up their pollution. Here’s a look at three of those distortions:

Myth #1 – The polluters claim that national parks are “untouched and pristine,” implying they’re clean, pure and unpolluted.

But, actually, many of our national parks have a pollution problem. The air can be dangerous to breathe in these parks despite their beauty. And the damaging affect on people’s health from polluters is what the EPA must address.

As the L.A. Times just reported, the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit that works to protect public parks, released a report giving four national parks an ‘F’ for already having unhealthy levels of ozone pollution. Ozone can cause asthma attacks and affects the health of millions of Americans who vacation in these parks. According to NPCA, 75% of the 48 iconic national parks have air quality that’s unhealthy at times. And four parks–Joshua Tree, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks–regularly have air that’s known to be unhealthy for most park visitors and rangers.

Myth #2 – The EPA’s proposal to strengthen protections from ozone pollution would cause national parks to be in violation of clean air laws.

First, some three-quarters of iconic national parks have air that’s unhealthy to breathe at times, even measuring under outdated standards. That pollution comes from heavy industry and from dirty cars and trucks, and it’s carried by the wind–even to national parks.

Second, the leading medical and public health associations all agree: the ozone standard needs to be strengthened because it’s currently set at a level that allows people to breathe dangerously dirty air. Three times, the EPA’s science advisers have told it unanimously that the current standard just doesn’t cut it. To protect kids, seniors, and everyone who spends time enjoying the great outdoors, we need a tougher ozone standard to clean up the air.

The polluter lobby wants to turn a blind eye to reality. But pretending the problem doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away.

Myth #3 – If national parks can’t comply with Clean Air Act requirements, how can your community comply?

Many areas of the country can already meet the proposed standard. And the EPA estimates that all but nine counties, with the exception of California, could meet the standard by 2025, the year, they’d have to comply.

Did the polluters get anything right?

Well, they’re right that we’re making progress in fighting air pollution. The Clean Air Act has made a huge difference. Since 1970, the Clean Air Act has helped reduce pollution levels — of ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and lead — by 68 percent and the economy has more than tripled.

So, why are the major polluters saying all this?

It all comes down to money and greed. Major polluters don’t want to pay the potential cost of buying pollution-control technology, which could reduce their profits.

And who would be hurt if the ozone standard is not strengthened?

Mainly, children, the elderly, people with asthma and those with sensitive conditions who are affected the most when air quality is poor.

The truth is the amount of ozone allowed into the air – 75 parts per billion is unsafe. And a more protective standard could save thousands of lives, and prevent nearly 1 million asthma attacks and up to 1 million missed days of school.

Instead of spreading lies, distortions and myths, major polluters should think about the 26 million who are affected by asthma, for many of whom the struggle to breathe is a daily battle. These are people who sometimes end up in emergency rooms and miss school and work when they just can’t get enough air into their lungs.

For African Americans and Latinos, who are more likely to live near sources of high pollution, the problem is worse. African Americans are three times more likely than white to be hospitalized because of asthma and Latinos are twice as likely to end up in the hospital.

In fact, some 71 percent of African Americans live in counties that are in violation of clear air laws, according to the NAACP.

Too often, people with asthma and breathing conditions have to avoid outdoor activity in the summer months when ozone levels are particularly high. And sometimes, they don’t get the treatment they need fast enough. Sometimes they lose their lives.

This blog was originally published on on July 31, 2015.

Based in Washington, D.C., Keith is the National Communications Strategist for Partnerships and Intersectional Justice.

Established in 1989, Earthjustice's Policy & Legislation team works with champions in Congress to craft legislation that supports and extends our legal gains.