A settlement agreement announced today calls for stronger steps to prevent future violations of federal health standards for ozone (smog) pollution in metropolitan Pittsburgh. The settlement came in a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) and the Sierra Club. The groups filed the suit last year, contending that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had improperly re-labeled the Pittsburgh area as meeting clean air requirements without mandating additional steps to prevent future violations of standards.
Pittsburgh has a long history of violating federal health standards for ozone. Although the area has not violated the current standard for several years, it has come close. Moreover, EPA has found that smog levels meeting the current standard still threaten people’s health. The settlement announced today requires additional pollution controls within the next year to protect clean air, and adoption of further controls in the future where needed to prevent or remedy future violations.
“This settlement will help to protect Pittsburgh residents from air pollution for years to come,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “It’s a health insurance policy for everyone who breathes the air.”
The settlement calls for stronger limits on pollution from certain industries, and requirements to reduce ozone-forming fumes from paints, varnishes, and certain consumer products. It further sets out requirements for “contingency” measures to be triggered if standards are violated in the future. Those measures include stronger enforcement of limits on fumes from gas stations, plus such additional measures as are needed to bring the area back into compliance with standards. Specific measures will be recommended by a panel of citizens, environmentalists, business, and community representatives.
“While the region strives to reduce ozone, we must take very seriously last year’s monitored exceedances of ozone standards in the Pittsburgh-Beaver Valley seven county area,” said Sue Seppi of GASP. “In general, when ozone levels are elevated, your chances of being affected by ozone increase the longer you are active outdoors, especially for sensitive groups including active children. This agreement helps get Pittsburgh along the road to healthier summer days.”
Ozone is a severe lung irritant even to healthy adults. It can cause shortness of breath, chest pains, increased risk of infection, aggravation of asthma, and significant decreases in lung function. Elevated ozone levels have been linked to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits for respiratory causes. Ozone presents a special health risk to small children, the elderly, persons with lung ailments, and adults who are active outdoors. In Pittsburgh, these at-risk groups include nearly half a million elderly persons and children at risk for acute respiratory attacks. The Clean Air Act generally required attainment of ozone standards by 1996.
“This is good news for everyone in Pittsburgh who breathes,” said Nancy F. Parks, chair of the Sierra Club’s Clean Air Committee. “When the Clean Air Act is enforced, it works. Pittsburgh residents will be better protected from smog pollution, and kids with asthma will breathe a little easier.”
The settlement is still contingent on formal EPA approval, which must wait for completion of a public comment process.