I can only imagine the fear that must grip a parent when his or her child suffers an asthma attack. And I can scarcely fathom how much time and energy they spend doing everything they can to avoid triggers for these potentially deadly attacks.

A major asthma trigger is smog — also known as ground-level ozone. Smog-induced asthma attacks send tens of thousands of people to the emergency room every year. Children and seniors are especially at risk.

To keep families safe from smog exposure, the EPA issues air quality warnings — like its “code red” and “code orange” alerts — to let people know when they should stay inside.

But it turns out that the medical information behind these alerts is outdated. In fact, it takes a lot less smog to threaten your health than scientists previously understood. So even when air alerts give parents the all clear, kids could still be breathing in dangerous levels of pollution.

That means that updating the smog standards is a matter of life and death.



This is why the Sierra Club, along with many other environmental and public health organizations, is urging the EPA to strengthen the current 75 parts per billion (ppb) standard to one that accurately reflects the most recent medical science on the health effects of smog.

The standard was last updated in 2008. That year, the Bush administration rejected the recommendations of expert scientists and medical health professionals who warned that the 75 ppb standard was insufficient to protect public health.

That could be about to change. Last November, the EPA proposed lowering the ozone standard to somewhere in the range of 65 ppb to 70 ppb, while also seeking comment on setting it as low as 60 ppb. This update is part of a regular review of the standard, as mandated by the Clean Air Act.

Research has shown that smog exposure can cause asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. It can also affect the nervous and cardiovascular systems, and can even lead to premature death.

Asthma is the No. 1 chronic health problem that causes American children to miss school. It costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars each year in missed work and health care costs.

It’s for these reasons that the EPA should limit smog pollution to 60 ppb, which is what health professionals recommend, when it finalizes the standard in October of this year. That would be a breath of fresh air for thousands of Americans who suffer needlessly from asthma attacks, nervous system disorders, and heart ailments when exposed to smog.

Another reason the EPA should limit smog to 60 ppb is to ensure that the public is getting the most accurate information available on the quality of their local air.

The EPA’s code red and orange alerts — which warn vulnerable people to stay indoors when smog levels become dangerous — are considered the gold standard on environmental health by news organizations, school boards, and other community organizations tasked with informing people about the air outside.

A 60 ppb standard would reflect the most accurate medical science today on lung safety and empower communities to make healthy decisions about outdoor events — like sports games, carnivals, and fairs — that can expose them to dangerous pollution. Parents and caretakers of the elderly will especially benefit, since it will allow them to better protect their vulnerable loved ones.

The American people shouldn’t have to wait any longer for action on cleaning up the smog. It’s time to clear the air and protect our families.

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Mary Anne Hitt

Mary Anne Hitt is the director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. Learn more at action.sierraclub.org/carbon
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