There is robust agreement on the dangers of ozone pollution in the medical health community.
Part I of our series on ozone described how 2015 was a bad year for Houston ozone. Part II reviewed recent research from leading Houston scientists that explains why more ozone pollution is harmful to our health. Part III explains how faulty logic and erroneous assumptions had led to costly lawsuits and poor public health policy across the state. Part IV will identify some solutions to Houston’s ozone problem and suggest measures to protect the health of Houston area residents.
There has been quite a bit of activity related to the proposed U.S. ozone regulations in the past year. As part of a four part series on ozone in 2015, we’d like to take the time to rebuke some of the scientifically-flawed testimony provided by state environmental officials, including Dr. Michael Honeycutt, toxicologist for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the state environmental agency. We feel that the agency has presented health information in a way that is misleading and contradicts the robust opinion of the medical health community on the issue.
First, a little context is important. We at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have participated in the public process involving the ozone standard and provided testimony to Congress on the health effects of ozone exposure. TCEQ has challenged the health-based standards in an aggressive way, and their efforts have been fodder for expensive and frivolous lawsuits filed by the state. Read More
High ozone days, particularly in sequence, increase the risk of an asthma attack requiring EMS intervention.
In Part I of our series on ozone, we described how 2015 was a bad year for Houston ozone. Why does this matter? In Part II, we’re reviewing recent research from leading Houston scientists that explains why more ozone pollution is harmful to our health.
Scientists have known for a long time that ground-level ozone, or smog, is harmful to human health. Smog is associated with adverse health effects like asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and lung disease. Children, the elderly, and individuals that spend lots of active time outdoors are even more susceptible to high ozone levels and thus considered sensitive populations.
Fortunately, recent research on exposure to lower levels of ozone prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year to strengthen the national health-based standard to 70 parts per billion (ppb). The new standard means cleaner air and healthier lungs in Houston, where studies from area scientists have demonstrated local, negative health implications of high ozone levels. Read More
This is Part I of our four-part series on Houston ozone and how it affects your health.
Ozone pollution affects everyone, no matter where they live.
Though the region has made progress on air quality in recent years, Houston suffered a setback in 2015 with a significant spike in its ozone levels. Ozone, also known as smog, is harmful to health and can result in respiratory symptoms such as cough and chest tightness. And with considerable industrial and population growth expected in the next few years, experts are understandably worried about public health risks.
To protect public health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets national standards for ozone concentrations, or limits on the amount of harmful ozone pollution in the air. In 2008, EPA strengthened the standard to 75 parts per billion (ppb), and this year the agency set a more protective standard of 70ppb. A lower number means there is less smog – and less smog means cleaner, healthier air. (In order to evaluate the public’s exposure to ozone, scientists and health officials look at regional monitoring data to determine when ozone levels exceed those federal health-based standards. Read More
California has had success addressing air toxics challenges similar to those in Texas.
For all their differences, Texas and California have a few big environmental challenges in common: large populations that drive significant miles on roadways, major industry that drives economic sustainability, and the resulting air pollution. Specifically, high levels of air toxics are linked to ozone pollution, and thus associated with higher risks of cancer and respiratory problems.
Fortunately, California has a new study detailing successes the state has had in addressing these issues – and it contains valuable lessons for Texas. The “Ambient and Emission Trends of Toxic Air Contaminants in California” study, authored by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and published last month in Environmental Science and Technology, demonstrates how emissions and health risk have decreased due to landmark clean air standards on air toxics. Between 1990 and 2012, CARB monitored the seven most significant air toxics that are responsible for cancer risk in California and found that the state’s efforts resulted in a staggering 76 percent decline in the risk of cancer from exposure to air toxics. Read More
Several weeks ago, I attended an ozone workshop sponsored by the toxicology division at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and facilitated by Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA). Ozone, a component of smog, is a harmful air pollutant that is associated with adverse health effects including asthma attacks, decreased lung function, and premature death.
EPA has proposed new National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) within the range of 65-70 parts per billion (ppb), and, according to TCEQ, this workshop was "designed to provide an independent evaluation and synthesis of key considerations for approaching the difficult ozone NAAQS decision."
Given the importance of this pollutant to public health, it is unfortunate a state environmental agency – that has plenty of other higher priority issues – chose to spend taxpayer money on a workshop designed to mislead the public and present a one-sided perspective on the issue.
What were the problems with TCEQ’s workshop? Read More
I’ve written extensively about the potentially grave health effects of ground-level ozone (smog) and the need for stronger standards to address ozone pollution. In 2008, the EPA set a national standard for ozone at 75 parts per billion—despite the fact that the nation’s leading medical societies and the EPA’s own Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) warned that the standard was not stringent enough to protect Americans from adverse health effects. A number of U.S. cities and counties petitioned the EPA to amend the standards to sufficient levels. EDF joined the call for common-sense ozone standards, partnering with the National Resources Defense Council, American Lung Association, National Parks Conservation Association, Appalachian Mountain Club and Earthjustice to press for a more protective standard.
Last week, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected petitions for a more protective air quality standard for ground-level ozone. The decision is deeply disappointing and in direct contradiction of ample scientific evidence showing the health hazards of ozone pollution at levels below the current standards.
Reasonable ozone standards are of particular importance to Texans. Ozone tends to form from vehicle tailpipe emissions on hot sunny days—so it’s no surprise that a typical Texas summer day is a perfect incubator for ozone gas. Texas has some of the highest ozone levels in the nation. The American Lung association identified a number of Texas cities and counties as ozone danger areas—including Houston and Dallas, two of the largest cities in the United States. Read More