Groups Sound Red
Alert Over Smog -
'Public Health Crisis'
By Environmental News Network staff
In 1999, only seven states met the Environmental Protection Agency's controversial health standard for smog and soot, according to an analysis of data from air-quality monitors across the country.
"Smog is causing a public health crisis, affecting people in nearly every state in the nation," said Rebecca Stanfield, an attorney with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which contributed to the analysis. "It's time to take aggressive action to protect public health and clean the air."
According to the report, "Danger in the Air," the EPA's eight-hour federal health standard for smog was exceeded at least 7,672 times in 1999. The standard is exceeded whenever and wherever an average of more than .08 parts per million of particulate matter accumulates in the air over an eight-hour period.
Led by the American Trucking Association, commerce and industry groups are challenging this standard. In May, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of commerce and industry on the grounds that the process the EPA used in setting the standard is illegal. The case is pending review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Danger in the Air" also analyzed the number of times the previous one-hour standard was exceeded. That standard ".12 parts per million averaged over a one-hour period " was exceeded 592 times. In the mile-high city of Denver, Colorado, car traffic is a major contributor to air pollution.
Smog is formed when nitrogen oxide, emitted as a byproduct of fossil-fuel burning by automobiles and electric power plants, mixes in the air with other chemicals in the presence of sunlight and heat. Smog season generally lasts from May to September, depending on weather conditions.
Smog is responsible each year for more than six million asthma attacks, 159,000 emergency-room visits and 53,000 hospitalizations, according to a report issued in October 1999 by Abt Associates of Cambridge, Massachusetts. "We think the [new] standard should be enforced," said Stanfield.
Whether or not this comes to pass, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Clean Air Network say Congress and the EPA can take other action to clean up the air.
One step already has been taken. On Dec. 21, 1999, the EPA adopted regulations aimed at making conventional passenger cars, including sport-utility vehicles, 90-percent cleaner by the year 2004.
Stanfield sees encouraging signs in the campaign to clean up the country's air. Five bills currently in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives promote clean air. One aim of the legislation is to get rid of a loophole that allows old, coal-fired power plants to emit four to 10 times as many pollutants as newer power plants.
"All bills will save tens of thousands of lives each year, prevent millions of unnecessary illnesses and help to protect our local and global ecosystems," the researchers write in their report.
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