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June 05, 2014

Children’s Health on the Line as EPA Updates Smog Pollution Levels

SmogNYThis week, the committee of experts that advises the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on air quality standards gave its recommendation on an acceptable range for protecting public health from smog pollution. The good news is the announcement means we’re one step closer to stronger protections from this dangerous air pollution. Unfortunately, the recommended range includes levels at the high end that are known to be unhealthy. For those of us fighting for clean air for all children, this means we’ll have to double-down on our efforts to ensure EPA adopts a standard that will protect all kids.

As a mom, I can only imagine what it feels like to watch your child struggle for breath. Summer has begun, and while many families are looking forward to vacations and spending time outdoors, hundreds of thousands of parents are also dreading the dangerous, sometimes deadly air pollution that can trigger asthma attacks in kids on hot days. That’s why the Sierra Club has created a new tool that will send you a text message every time there is an air pollution alert in your area - sign up here.

Ground-level ozone (also known as smog) robs hundreds of thousands of Americans with asthma and other respiratory ailments of quality of life. It sends thousands of children to emergency rooms each year and costs us billions in healthcare costs, lost productivity, and premature deaths.

The seven-member Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee is charged with advising the EPA when the agency updates air quality standards every five years, as required under the Clean Air Act. The committee's new recommended range for smog is between 60 and 70 parts per billion. This may sound like a narrow range, but when it comes to the health effects of smog pollution -- especially on children whose lungs are still developing -- in the gap between 60 and 70 parts per billion, there are many children’s lives at stake.

Americans deserve to know if our air is clean or not, and we count on these EPA experts to recommend standards that will truly protect our families. This process is not only about requiring polluters to clean up, but also about updating the standard so families know when the air is unsafe for their kids.

Thousands of lives are on the line. Modeling of smog pollution health effects looking at 12 cities across the country showed that lowering the acceptable level of smog to 60 parts per billion would save 4 to 5 times as many lives as 70 parts per billion.   

Numerous medical associations and public health organizations have endorsed 60 parts per billion as the standard for ground-level ozone that is consistent with protecting public health. Even the experts on the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee acknowledged that a standard below 70 parts per billion would better protect the health of our families.

Activists nationwide -- including parents, healthcare workers, business owners, members of the faith community, and even one 11-year-old girl -- are fighting to clean up the ozone-forming pollution from nearby coal plants that, right now, is threatening the very health of their communities.

Even President Obama, in his visit to Children’s National Medical Center this week, acknowledged our need as a nation to address air pollution and reduce childhood asthma.

If EPA follows the advice of those medical and public health experts and chooses to set the acceptable level of smog at 60 parts per billion, this new standard will go a long way to clean up the air we breathe. But with such a wide range on the table, we are going to have to work hard to push EPA to adopt a strong standard. The EPA will create its draft proposal by December and should finalize new smog protections by the end of 2015. EPA needs to get this right -- literally, children's lives hang in the balance.

Over the coming months, all of us will have an opportunity to weigh in and speak out to ensure that the final proposal from EPA creates strong protections for children from dangerous smog pollution. Tens of thousands have already called on EPA to create the strongest possible safeguards -- add your voice now!

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director

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