EPA report finds air not as healthy as previously thought
In late August the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its latest smog pollution policy assessment with an unsettling finding. What were thought as "safe" levels of smog pollution are not so safe after all. The report recommends revising the current health-based national ambient air quality standard for ozone from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to within 60 to 70 ppb, saying in part:
“A standard set within this range would result in important improvements in public protection compared to the current standard, and could reasonably be judged to provide an appropriate degree of public health protection, including for at-risk populations and life stages.”
In other words, what we thought was a "safe" level of air pollution has in fact been unsafe, especially for children, the elderly and others at risk for respiratory ailments. What we thought of as "moderate" air days are in fact "bad" air days.
That's the bad news.
Sierra Club launches tool to stay informed on bad air days
The good news is two-fold. First there is the EPA's recommendation for tightening current smog rules, which was last updated in 2008. Despite a warning from experts at the time of the "terrible consequences" of adopting the now current 75 ppb standard, the Bush administration rejected that recommendation.
“The EPA’s smog pollution policy assessment confirms again that the current standard does not adequately protect the health of our communities and that we need a more restrictive standard," said Mary Anne Hitt, Sierra Club's Beyond CoalCampaign Director. "The science is clear that the existing standard must be lowered, and we strongly encourage the agency to limit this pollution to 60 ppb when they announce the proposed standard in December."
But that still leaves many communities with unsafe and unhealthy levels of smog pollution. To help people make more informed decisions the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign has launched a free bad air alerts text system. Available in both Spanish and English, the system will instantly alert users on their mobile phones when there is a bad air day within a 50-mile radius. This new tool can be vital for parents of school children, school administrators, the elderly, athletes, outdoors enthusiasts and anyone concerned with the quality of the air they breath.
The bad air alert system is designed to give communities across the country the most up-to-date information for respiratory health based on the recommendations of scientists and healthcare professionals. The alerts include the following categories:
- Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups: members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected.
- Unhealthy: everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.
- Very Unhealthy: health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.
- Hazardous: health alert: everyone may experience more serious health effects.
Among the leading causes of smog pollution is coal-fired power plants, a major contributor to the 40 percent of Americans living in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution. The Sierra Club reports that inhaling smog is like "getting sunburn on your lungs." Smog pollution exacerbates bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. When protracted these illnesses can lead to permanent lung damage and even premature death.
“We hope that this new text-alert system will not only help families stay informed," says Hitt, "but will also raise general awareness about the hazards of ground-level smog caused by coal-fired power plants, which sends thousands to the emergency room each year and is an economic drain on communities.”
Sign up online for the bad air text alert system or simply text AIRALERTS to 69866
Main image credit: Steven Buss, courtesy flickr