Tuesday, November 15, 2005

EPA career scientists: people are dying at current smog levels

A science note: As you may know, the EPA is under a court agreement to decide if the current (1997) 8-hour ozone standard remains adequate to protect people’s health in light of newer scientific studies.

They’re a long way from making a decision; indeed, the court won’t require that decision until 2007.

Even so, EPA’s career scientists have begun distilling the massive volumes of science. They have just published the first draft “staff paper” which seeks to put the often-esoteric scientific studies into some coherent summary -- a 390-page summary! See at http://www.epa.gov/ttn/naaqs/standards/ozone/data/O3-SP-11-14-05a.pdf

Based on this assessment by EPA scientists, it looks as if a very good argument could be made that the current 8-hour ozone standard needs to be made tighter to protect people’s health.

There are some interesting tidbits in this summary by the EPA scientists:

The agency scientists conclude there is “strong evidence” between exposure to ozone and premature death. [p 6-8]. In fact, the report estimates the smog-related death tolls in a number of cities, using 2004 [as we noted in our recent smog survey, a year with generally low ozone due to cool weather and rain]. The cities include New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Sacramento. See charts beginning at page 5-41.

The scientists conclude there would still be some smog-related premature death, even if the current standards were met.

“These initial analyses suggest that meeting the current 8-hour O3 standard would likely
result in substantial reductions in exposures of concern and associated risks of serious health
effects above a level of 0.08 ppm O3. On the other hand, these analyses also suggest that there is risk of moderate or greater lung function decrements in children, hospital admissions, and
mortality from O3 resulting from exposures across the range of levels allowed by the current
standard.” [p. 6-14]

The EPA scientists also conclude that ozone seems to have a more harmful impact on those with asthma than previously believed [p. 6-6], that exposure to ozone drives up hospital admissions for people with respiratory problems [p. 6-7] and that it appears to increase school absenteeism.

The agency scientists said they hope to examine the “risks” to public health at potentially more restrictive standards:

“After consideration of the entire body of experimental and epidemiological evidence, the
results of exposure and risk assessments and the consideration of non-quantifiable effects, such
as the effects of repeated exposures and potentially greater effects on people with asthma, it is
staff’s view that it is appropriate to conduct additional exposure and risk assessments down to an alternative standard level as low as 0.06 ppm.” [p. 6-20]


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