The EPA Wants Tougher Rules on Ozone
The Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday that it would recommend tougher standards for ozone, a common air pollutant that can contribute to chronic lung diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema, exacerbate asthma attacks, increase susceptibility to respiratory infections, and even trigger asthma in children.
Ground-level ozone arises when certain volatile chemicals mix in the air. "Combustion of coal, natural gas, or petroleum, that's when high levels of ozone can form," says EPA spokesman John Millett. Ozone is also produced naturally in the stratosphere (6 to 30 miles above the Earth's surface), where it filters out harmful ultraviolet radiation.
Air pollution is responsible for more than 40,000 preventable deaths a year in the United States, according to a report released last week by the World Health Organization. Those most at risk for health effects of air pollution are residents of urban areas, especially children, the elderly, and people with lung and heart diseases. However, even in polluted areas it's possible to reduce exposure to the worst of the pollutants—fine particulate matter and ozone. "People should try to follow the air-quality standards, and when pollutants are high they should avoid doing outdoor activities," said Fernando Holguin, director of the Grady Memorial Hospital Adult Asthma Center at Emory University. To further reduce exposure to pollutants, Holguin says, "try not to go jogging right next to major intersections and roads."
Many urban newspapers publish a daily air-quality forecast, and local information on ozone and particulate matter is also available online through the EPA. The guides are color coded from green (no risk) to red (hazardous) based on current EPA standards.