With the Benghazi hearing sucking up everyone’s attention Oct. 22, I'm betting you missed the House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s hearing the same day on the new ozone standard set by the EPA earlier this month.
Which is shocking because, of the two issues, the new ozone standard will definitely have a bigger impact on your personal world than whether Hillary lied about why our Libyan embassy was attacked. (Discuss on your own time.)
So let me recap and, of course, throw in my two cents.
On Oct. 1, the EPA lowered the national ambient air quality standard for ozone to 70 parts per billion (ppb) for an 8-hour average. The deadline for attainment will likely be 2037.
The San Joaquin Valley already can’t meet the previous two standards of 75 ppb (deadline 2032) and 84 ppb (deadline 2024). We finally did meet the even older standard of 124 ppb in 2013. But the EPA hasn’t recognized that achievement because a monitor in Arvin was moved, which is a whole other story.
Anyhow, the valley’s ozone level is pegged at 93 ppb, by the EPA using a convoluted and somewhat unfair methodology.
So, we have 22 years to drop our ozone by 23 parts per billion. Simple, right? No.
In fact, Seyed Sadredin, director the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, has said repeatedly and told Congress on Oct. 22 that even if we stopped all fossil fuel combustion we still wouldn’t hit 70 ppb.
Even so, his goal before the committee wasn’t to ask that the standard be relaxed.
Sadredin wants the Clean Air Act amended to acknowledge a few realities that have emerged over the last 30 years we’ve been working on air pollution.
• Synchronize standards so they don’t overlap. We have six attainment plans for six different standards right now with four more in the works and, yes, all have duplicative requirements.
• Different pollutants should be given different weight. For instance, we’ve learned locally that VOCs, volatile organic compounds, aren’t as big of a health threat as NOx, nitrogen oxide. Why regulate for them the same?
• If you’re already an “extreme nonattainment area,” which we are, the EPA shouldn’t require a “contingency” plan. Every emission that can be cut has been. There are no contingency emission cuts to be had.
• Instead of arbitrary deadlines, require the air district to prove every five years that it’s done everything economically and technologically feasible to achieve EPA standards.
• Clarify rules around vehicle-related emissions due to population growth in nonattainment areas by allowing states to take credit for emission reductions due to vehicle turnover and improved tailpipe controls.
He didn’t even get into the fact that the EPA doesn’t account for China’s ozone, which adds 5 to 20 ppb to the valley’s overall level. But I’ll let that one go for now.
The air district’s tweaks are reasonable and would go a long way to making sure we’re still pushing forward without being unfairly fined and sanctioned into oblivion. I hear Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, is considering introducing legislation to make the changes this year.
It’s a start, but we still need a lot more rational thinking on this issue. While Sadredin wasn’t interested in arguing whether ozone is truly the health bogeyman it’s made out to be, I am.
First, air pollution, including ozone, doesn’t cause asthma.
Repeat: asthma is not caused by air pollution.
I wish public agencies and activist groups could be sued every time they spit out that particular bit of misinformation.
Air pollution can exacerbate asthma symptoms, but it’s not the root cause.
Here’s another inconvenient truth: none of us is sucking in 93 ppb of ozone with every breath.
That figure is based on the fourth highest consecutive reading from the valley’s worst air monitor. (One monitor in 25,000 square miles, by the way.)
Personal ozone exposure is much lower because most of us aren’t outdoors all day.
In fact, a 2000 study on exactly that subject in San Bernardino County found school kids had, on average, personal ozone exposures of 18.8 ppb in Upland and 25.4 ppb in the mountain towns during the height of ozone season. San Bernardino County’s ambient ozone level is pegged at 102 ppb by the EPA.
We should know what the average personal exposure is region by region and study those health effects to see if there’s a need to reduce ozone any further.
Otherwise, it seems, we’re just regulating for the fun of it.
Don’t be fooled by EPA Director Gina McCarthy’s talk about how the new rule is a “science-backed” way to protect health.
The 2009 Edward Schelegle study the EPA relied on, which McCarthy mentioned in her announcement of the new rule, took 31 young adults at UC Davis and had them do vigorous exercise in 50-minute intervals for 6.6 hours in chambers filled with various levels of ozone.
Researchers found slightly reduced lung function at 72 ppb of ozone.
The general public isn’t exposed to that level of ozone for that long under those conditions. And yet, we all have to adhere to this new rule.
“The problem is, (the EPA scientists) are very deep on very narrow issues,” said Dr. Mike Honeycutt, director of the toxicology division of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, who also testified before Congress Oct. 22. “This process needs a number of experts, pulling together data streams. They need a risk assessor.”
Even the EPA can’t say whether the new ozone standard will cause any real decrease in asthma attacks, he said. And while the EPA also tries to pin premature mortality on ozone, no studies show actual causality.
In fact, if you’re looking for ways to improve your life expectancy, you’re far better off boosting your income than worrying about ozone.
Honeycutt sent me a chart showing the possible effect of a variety of lifestyle changes on premature mortality.
If you’re in a lower income bracket and your paycheck drops by 10 percent, your risk of dying early increases by 35 percent.
Comparatively, a 10 ppb increase in ozone might increase your risk of early death by less than 1 percent.
As I said, a lot more rational thinking needed here.