Panel Confirms That Ozone Kills

Smog component, other air pollutants are generated by automobiles, adding pressure on EPA to regulate.

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Ozone, a key component of smog that comes in part from automobile fumes, is linked to premature death, says a new report from the National Academy of Sciences. The findings ratchet up pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency to consider ozone-related mortality in setting ozone standards in the future. They also come as a snub to the White House Office of Management and Budget, which has raised questions about the certainty of the ozone pollution and mortality link in the past, the Associated Press reports.

Acrimony over ozone standards has been simmering since March, when the EPA toughened standards only slightly for ambient ozone pollution from 80 parts per billion to 75 parts per billion. Some environmental and health advocacy groups have criticized the change because the agency's own Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee had recommended that a level between 60 and 70 parts per billion was needed "to protect human health." Critics assert that the White House played a key role in weakening the standard. Henry Waxman, the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, recently issued a subpoena of White House documents related to the ozone standards.

Not only ozone. This is just the latest flare-up concerning science that links air pollution to adverse health effects. In February, U.S. News explored the growing evidence that airborne particles too small to see take an especially heavy toll on the heart; the story also describes how to minimize your risk.

There are ways to find out about your local air quality and ways to minimize the risk. U.S. News has heard from experts, for example, who recommend remapping your running route if it takes you through traffic, as well as those who have suggested that people concerned about the health effects of air pollution avoid living near major highways.

Still, specialists in risk assessment have suggested that it's important to remember the risk to any one individual remains slight, though it is increased for the elderly and young children. The problem from a public health perspective, experts say, is that even a slight increase in risk multiplied by the millions of Americans who breath translates into tens of thousands of unnecessary illnesses, hospitalizations, and premature deaths.