20 years and 6 months and counting….

Did you know that Sunday was an important milestone day here in the South Coast Air Basin?  Well it was.

Twenty years and 6 months ago Congress established in the Clean Air Act the requirement that  the Environmental Protection Agency must announce whether the health-based National Ambient Air Quality Standard for Ozone has been met in the areas of the United States with the worst air quality (the attainment date was earlier for areas where the air quality wasn’t as bad).

Ozone is a very serious health threat.  Very serious.  In fact:

Ozone is an invisible gas made of three oxygen atoms (O3).  Ozone is often referred to as smog. Ozone forms when two groups of gases have a chemical reaction in the air triggered by sunlight and heat. The two groups of gases—hydrocarbon vapors and nitrogen oxides—come from many sources around us.

Ozone reacts chemically (“oxidizes”) with internal body tissues, such as those in the lung. Think of it as a “sunburn” on the lungs. Ozone irritates and inflames the respiratory system at levels frequently found across the nation during the summer months. Breathing ozone may lead to:

  • shortness of breath, chest pain
  • inflammation of the lung lining, wheezing and coughing
  • increased risk of asthma attacks, need for medical treatment and for hospitalization for people with lung diseases, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • premature death

Children who grow up in areas of high ozone pollution may never develop their full lung capacity as adults. That can put them at greater risk of lung disease throughout their lives.

Here’s how this health information gets translated into real people’s lives:

Yes, that’s right–according to Drs. Hall and Brajer, the authors of this report–41 people each year die and hundreds of thousands of people each year are sickened by the on-going failure to meet the ozone standard.  (For the more technical among you, I should note that I know this figure is for the failure to meet the 8-hour ozone standard developed by the Bush Administration.  Meeting the 1-hour standard would prevent even more harm.)

Well, the EPA has failed to say whether the South Coast Air Basin has met the standard.

This year, as in past years, the American Lung Association give all of the counties in the South Coast Air Basin a failing grade—an ‘F’—for air quality.  They also ranked the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside area as the “most polluted” for ozone in the country.

On May 10th, the EPA said that they believe that Sacramento has met the standard.  They’ve been strangely silent on the South Coast Air Basin and the San Joaquin Valley–the two other places in California that are unlikely to meet the standard.

That’s why,  a coalition of health and justice organizations, including Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles,  Desert Citizens Against Pollution, Communities for a Better Environment, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Coalition for a Safe Environment sent a notice to the EPA of the intent to sue the EPA for its failure to determine whether the South Coast Air Basin has met the 1-hour ozone standard.  We’ll file suit in federal court in 60-days if the EPA has not fulfilled its mandatory duty to make this finding.

In the San Joaquin Valley–Association of Irritated Residents, El Comité para el Bienestar de Earlimart, and separately,  San Joaquin Valley advocates, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air and the Sierra Club sent the EPA a notice of intent to sue letter, too.

In the South Coast Air Basin some 17 million people endure the most ozone-polluted air in the country, killing people and causing staggering amounts of financil and emotional distress for families.  Just think, based upon the number above,  in the South Coast Air Basin,

  • nearly every week, a family buries  a loved-one BECAUSE we have not met the ozone standard;
  • nearly every day, a family rushes a loved one the the emergency room, gasping for breath, BECAUSE we have not met the ozone standard;
  • every day, 2 people are admitted to the hospital for respiratory problems, BECAUSE we have not met the ozone standard;
  • every day, more than 300 asthma attacks happen BECAUSE we have not met the ozone standard.

The EPA has an obligation to make the finding about our air quality.  Silence and inaction are not an option in the face of the kind of harm caused by air pollution.

60 days and counting.

Clean Air matters.

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