Letters from the West

EPA proposes to toughen ozone air pollution standard

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to strengthen the standard for ground level ozone air pollution that Treasure Valley officials has worked together to control for the last decade.

The agency made the proposal to cut the allowable level from 75 parts per billion to a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion. It also is asking for comments on dropping the standard as low as 60 ppb, which likely would place the Treasure Valley in violation of the standards which would place limits on industrial growth, dousing development and road expansion projects.

But the issue is public health and the EPA has solid evidence the tougher standard would prevent more than 750 to 4,300 premature deaths; 1,400 to 4,300 asthma-related emergency room visits; and 65,000 to 180,000 missed workdays. Studies show the proposed range would provide significantly better protection for children, preventing from 320,000 to 960,000 asthma attacks and from 330,000 to 1 million missed school days.

"Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air, improve access to crucial air quality information, and protect those most at-risk,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “It empowers the American people with updated air quality information to protect our loved ones -- because whether we work or play outdoors – we deserve to know the air we breathe is safe.”

Studies show exposure to ozone at levels below 75 ppb -- the level of the current standard -- can pose serious threats to public health, harm the respiratory system, cause or aggravate asthma and other lung diseases, and is linked to premature death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes. Ground-level ozone forms in the atmosphere when emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds “cook” in the sun from sources like cars, trucks, buses, industries, power plants and certain fumes from fuels, solvents and paints.

The Treasure Valley and the Idaho Legislature worked together to develop programs to reduce automobile pollution by requiring testing in Canyon County and to reduce volatile organic compounds that escape from fuel. The Treasure Valley Air Quality Council, which was pushed by many of the area’s largest businesses sought to reduce emissions proactively to prevent federal enforcement, which most believed would be more restrictive.