There is hope. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
announced on Sept. 16 that it plans to consider changes to current ozone pollution standards. The EPA last reviewed its ozone standards just last year, but the agency faced criticism from scientists and public health experts who recommended stricter ozone pollution regulations.
In the upper atmosphere ozone helps to block harmful ultraviolet radiation, but at ground level ozone can be harmful to humans and other animals. At ground level ozone helps form smog and can cause irritation of animal respiratory symptoms, leading to more problems for asthma sufferers and an increased rate of respiratory illness. The molecule can also irritate the eyes of animals.
Last year, EPA lowered the permitted ozone standard from 80 parts per billion (ppb) to 75 ppb. EPA scientists had recommended a lower allowance of 60 ppb. The World Health Organization recommends a maximum of 51 ppb.
Metropolitan areas not in compliance with ozone pollution regulations face restrictions on federal highway construction and permitting of new industrial sites that may contribute to pollution. Jefferson and Shelby counties are frequently in violation of EPA regulations.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is one organization pushing for stronger ozone restrictions. In a Sept. 16 press release, the SELC cited studies reviewed by the EPA that suggest lowering the ozone limits from 75 ppb to 70 ppb could results in 780 fewer deaths nationwide.
“Although these appear to be quite small amounts we’re talking about, the increasing numbers of children in emergency rooms, older people with lung disease, and even premature deaths are not inconsequential,” SELC Senior Attorney Frank Rambo stated in the press release.
Vehicle exhaust is one of the main causes of ground-level ozone. Coal-fired power plants and other factories also contribute to ozone pollution, as does lightning.