Process of setting new smog standards shouldn’t be like pulling teeth

SMOG_-_NARA_-_542581.tif[1]I don’t believe I have ever before seen the kind of disagreement over a health standard having to do with one of the nation’s most problematic pollutants – ozone – than I’m seeing right now. Deciding on updated U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, I mean, how difficult a process does this need to be? The current daily standards – one primary and one secondary – of 75 parts per billion (ppb) don’t appear to be public health-protective enough.

According to Tony Barboza in the Los Angeles Times, environmentalists and other advocates would like to see the standard tightened to 60 ppb. Business interests, apparently, are saying “not so fast,” as this and even a less stringent standard of 70 ppb might force the export of jobs, that is, based on sentiment expressed.

What we know

Some of the nation’s worst ozone is in California. In 2011 through 2013, average daily ozone was 107 ppb in the South Coast air-shed, Barboza noted, the San Joaquin Valley air-shed registering an average 94 ppb in that same three-year period. Meanwhile, last year, in the South Coast air basin, the present standard was exceeded on 94 days. Remember: anything over the 75 ppb threshold corresponds to an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 101 which means “unhealthy for sensitive individuals” (or groups) or worse – either unhealthy for everyone (at best) or hazardous (at worst). With a new standard adopted this would more than likely mean the AQI would need to be adjusted to reflect the change.

It was probably one ardent supporter of the proposed revised standard in the Barboza piece who summed it up best: “‘If a standard does not protect the most vulnerable among us – the children, the elderly and those with asthma – then it’s not protective enough’ [Ann Rothschild, a 71-year-old and Trinity Episcopal Cathedral member in Sacramento] said.”

For even greater perspective, see: “Policy Assessment for the Review of the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards Health and Environmental Impacts Division, EPA-452/R-14-006, Aug. 2014 here.

A final ruling is expected by October later this year.

Not quite as definitive as a chosen standard, is compliance with said standard. As I understand things, it is expected that most of the country will be able to meet the revised standards within a decade, while California’s San Joaquin Valley and South Coast regions would be given a pass until 2037, according to Barboza.

Meanwhile, the EPA updated the annual standards for fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) pollution to 12 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) of air (primary) and to 15 μg/m3 of air (secondary), on Dec. 14, 2012. The 24-hour primary and secondary PM 2.5 standards were also set that day at 35 μg/m3. In contrast, compared to the process of the setting of revised ozone standards, when the health standards were set for both fine and coarse particulate matter pollution (PM 2.5 and PM 10), respectively, the process appears to have been a relatively pain-free one.

Image above: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

– Alan Kandel