Monday, August 15, 2011

EPA gets failing grade for failure to strengthen carbon monoxide air standard

This decision is disappointing. EPA does not deserve a passing grade for this one. EPA followed the wishes of the oil and car companies rather than the advice of the public health community.

The science advisers actually had urged the agency to consider tougher standards:

“[i]f the epidemiological evidence is given additional weight, the conclusion could be drawn that health effects are occurring at levels below the current standard, which would support the tightening of the current standard.” Taking this into account, the Panel further advised that “revisions that result in lowering the standard should be considered” (Brain and Samet, 2010b).
We can only hope this is not a precedent for the more crucial ozone decision.

Here is what our friends at the American Lung Association say about this:

August 15, 2011 202-715-3459

EPA’s Decision to Retain Weak Carbon Monoxide Air Quality Standards
Fails to Protect Public Health
Targeted Roadside Monitoring Network to Let Public Know
Where Unhealthy Air Exists in Communities

Statement of Charles D. Connor, President and Chief Executive Officer, American Lung Association

WASHINGTON (August 15, 2011) –The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today reaffirmed the current the national air quality limits for carbon monoxide air pollution, and missed the opportunity to strengthen this standard. This is a disappoint ing step, and a sad 40th anniversary for these weak national standards, set in 1971. In this decision, EPA did not accept the Agency’s own evidence that the 1971 standards cannot protect public health, which is the sole purpose of the air quality standards. Nor did the EPA follow the recommendation by independent expert scientists who advise them, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, to adopt stronger, more protective standards.

EPA did target the monitoring for this dangerous pollutant, a critical step to let the public know where unhealthy levels of this dangerous pollutant are in their communities. More than 45 million people who attend school, live near, commute, or work on or near transportation routes have their health placed at risk by exposure to carbon monoxide and other traffic pollutants. Lack of adequate monitoring has meant that they cannot adequately know the threats to their health, and has limited research and cleanup.

All areas in the nation currently comply with the 1971 standards. Levels have dropped significantly since the 1970s, thanks to reduced emissions from vehicle exhaust. Yet large, repeated epidemiological studies provide evidence that the public is harmed by carbon monoxide at levels currently found in our nation. EPA noted multiple epidemiological studies that found links between CO exposure well below the existing standards, and harm to public health, including increased risk for hospital admissions for children with asthma and for adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as increased risk to people with cardiovascular disease.

Millions of Americans are unprotected by the current air quality standards for carbon monoxide. Children with asthma and adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) should be free to work or play outdoors without fear that air pollution will trigger asthma attacks or worsen their ability to breathe and send them to the hospital. People who live near or work on or near busy highways should not risk their lives and their health.

What the h is happening with EPA air standards for carbon monoxide?

As you may recall, EPA was under a court deadline to make a decision by last Friday on whether to revise national air quality standards for carbon monoxide.

The OMB web site notes that OMB cleared the rule for takeoff on August 12. But so far, EPA has been silent. (Though it issued press releases for nine other issues that day – see below.)

As we reminded people recently, EPA’s science advisers urged the agency to set tougher new national outdoor air standards for this pollutant.$File/EPA-CASAC-10-013-unsigned.pdf

The scientists noted that air pollution levels of carbon monoxide have dropped over time (thanks largely to catalytic converters on cars). But they still urged tougher standards that reflect modern research.

But the EPA proposed in February to keep existing standards. Is that the final decision – blowing off the science advisers as did the much-criticized Bush EPA? Does that account for the lack of fanfare?

And is this a precedent for the much more controversial ozone standard? Let’s hope not.

EPA Press Releases Issued 8/12/2011

1. EPA Update on Yellowstone River Oil Spill (Silvertip Pipeline), August 12th, 2011 2. EPA Announces 2011 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants in Traverse City, Michigan 3. Lincoln, Neb., Selected to Receive Green Design Assistance 4. EPA to Begin Air Sampling at the Capital City Plume Site in Montgomery, AL 5. EPA Seeks Input on the Development of Drinking Water Perchlorate Regulation 6. EPA Issues Rule on Carbamate Wastes 7. EPA Partnering with State Capitals on Green Design and Economic Revitalization 8. EPA Provides District of Columbia with Green Design Assistance 9. EPA and National Park Service to Host Community Dialogue about Environmental Justice at Clark Atlanta University