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Stricter US Ozone Standard Falls Short Of Recommendation

Reuters in Washington – Updated on Mar 14, 2008The US Environmental Protection Agency has toughened smog standards for the first time in a decade – but the new requirements are still more lax than the agency’s own scientists recommended.

Stephen Johnson, the agency’s chief, said he had complied with the Clean Air Act and with scientific data in setting the new ozone standard at a strict 75 parts per billion in ambient air in the US. The previous standard was 80 parts per billion, but since results were rounded down, this was effectively 84 parts per billion.

The agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee had, however, recommended a standard of 60 to 70 parts per billion, with the lower level suggested for children who were more vulnerable to ozone pollution, the prime component of smog.

Counties that cannot meet the standard face the threat of limits on the construction of new highways and industries.

Industries had urged the government to retain the higher standard, citing the high cost of meeting the new requirement.

“The regulation I signed today is compelled by the Clean Air Act and the most recent scientific data on the effects of ozone on human health,” Mr Johnson said in a telephone briefing. “Since the EPA last updated ozone standards … scientific studies have indicated ozone’s health impacts are more significant and certain than we previously understood.”

Unlike stratospheric ozone, which forms a protective layer high above Earth’s surface, ground-level ozone can make it hard to breathe and aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions.

It can also damage plants, making disease and reduced crop yields more likely.

“The EPA has taken a baby step instead of the strong action doctors say is needed to protect our lungs,” said David Baron of the environmental group Earthjustice.

The new standards came in response to a court-ordered deadline in a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice in 2003 on behalf of the American Lung Association, Environmental Defence, the Natural Resources Defence Council, and other conservation groups.

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