Smog Limits: Californians Help Decide New Standards

OK, it's usually better than this now. Downtown Los Angeles in 1965 | Photo: Metro Transportation Library and Archive/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Californians are weighing in on how much smog is too much. The Environmental Protection Agency is considering new limits for ground-level ozone, or smog, at a meeting today in Sacramento.

The agency's proposal could strengthen the limit to only 60 parts per billion from the current limit of 75.

Doctor Georges Benjamin, executive director with American Public Health Association, disagrees with industry leaders who argue the current standards are working. "It's not good enough, because the science tells us we save more lives if we bring the number down lower," says Benjamin. "As to the argument it's going to cost all of this money to do it, we hear that every time we try to lower the numbers and history tells us that is just not true."


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Those against changing the smog pollution limit say it would mean higher energy bills for families and that would negatively impact the economy. The EPA's smog standard hasn't been updated since 2008. A final rule is expected by Oct. 1.


Dr. Donna Upson, pulmonary physician and associate professor of medicine at the University of New Mexico, says strengthening the standard is critical to public health.

"Levels of airway obstruction increase in healthy individuals after just a limited exposure to ozone levels higher than 59 parts per billion," Upson says. "So really we're all at risk of the dangers of ozone."

She says smog has been linked to asthma attacks and respiratory illness, heart disease, and even premature death.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) says the stronger limit would be expensive. But the American Lung Association's Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy and education, says the standards are not set based on cost but rather what level of smog is considered dangerous.

"Cost and feasibility are not part of the decision," says Billings. "You want your doctor to tell you what makes you sick, not what it'll cost to cure you. So, the API is really at the wrong part of the process."

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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