Friday, September 2, 2011

Air Time: President stops new ozone standard

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

President Obama has announced that he is pulling the plug on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to tighten the health-based standard for ozone emissions.

EPA first announced plans to revise the standard in January 2010. But since then, a decision has been delayed repeatedly because of strong pushback from business, industry and others.

There are two kinds of ozone. “Good” ozone forms naturally about 10 to 30 miles above the Earth’s surface. It helps protect life on Earth from the sun’s harmful rays.

But ozone at ground level is considered “bad.” It is the main ingredient of smog, and can cause health problems. This is the kind that the federal standard addresses.

You can learn about ozone and its impacts by watching this Ecology video.

Ground-level ozone is a gas created by a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the presence of sunlight. Vehicle and industrial emissions, gasoline vapors, chemical solvents, and natural sources emit NOx and VOCs that help form ground-level ozone. Many urban areas tend to have high levels of ozone. But high ozone levels can also be found in rural areas, because wind carries ozone and ozone-forming pollutants hundreds of miles away from their sources.

Unhealthy ozone levels can affect people with lung disease, children, older adults, and people who are active. Breathing ozone can:
  • Trigger airway irritation, coughing and pain when taking a deep breath.
  • Cause wheezing and breathing difficulties during exercise or outdoor activities.
  • Inflame lung tissue.
  • Aggravate asthma.
  • Increase susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis.
  • Permanently scar lung tissue after repeated exposures.

Here’s what you can do to help reduce ozone:
  • Drive less. Combine errands or use public transportation.
  • Postpone travel until cooler evening hours, if possible.
  • Don’t use lawnmowers or other small engines that emit air pollutants.
  • Observe bans on outdoor burning because of high fire danger and health protection.
  • Don’t idle your engine. Turn it off while your vehicle is parked or waiting in line.
  • Wait for cooler morning or evening hours to refuel your vehicle.
  • Don’t paint or use aerosol sprays until temperatures cool off.

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