The air in more than 300 U.S. counties — including Maricopa, Pinal and surrounding counties — is simply too dirty to breathe, the government says, ordering a multibillion-dollar expansion of smog cleanup in cities and towns across the country.
The Environmental Protection Agency directed that air must contain no more than 75 units of ozone, or smog, for every billion units of air in order to be considered healthy, a reduction from the current maximum concentration of 80 to 84 parts per billion.
Maricopa County has a concentration of 84 parts per billion.
Pinal, Pima and Gila counties are also in violation of new federal air-pollution standards set Wednesday by the EPA.
However, the agency expects those counties to meet their guidelines by 2020 because of more stringent exhaust emission standards now being imposed on U.S. truck-makers, said Margot Perez-Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the EPA.
EPA pushes tougher rules to cut smog
WASHINGTON (AP) - The air in hundreds of U.S. counties is simply too dirty to breathe, the government said Wednesday, ordering a multibillion-dollar expansion of efforts to clean up smog in cities and towns nationwide.
The federal action, which lowers ozone limits for the atmosphere, means that 345 counties will now be in violation of the health requirement, about four times as many as under the old rules.
However, scientists said the change still isn’t enough to significantly reduce heart and asthma attacks from breathing smog-clogged air, and they pressed the Environmental Protection Agency to issue even more stringent requirements.
Electric utilities, oil companies and other businesses had lobbied hard for leaving the smog rule alone, saying the high cost of lower limits could hurt the economy and noting that many communities still haven’t met requirements set a decade ago.
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson decided to take the middle ground when it comes to smog.
The EPA directed that air must contain no more than 75 units of ozone, or smog, for every billion units of air in order to be considered healthy, a reduction from the current maximum concentration of 80 to 84 parts per billion.
The new ozone standard will serve as the benchmark for state and local officials as they design pollution control measures.
The EPA gives states years to meet the needed reductions, and areas with the worst pollution are likely to have as long as a decade to comply.
Ozone is a product of nitrogen oxides and other organic chemical compounds from motor vehicles, power plants, manufacturing and industrial plants. As it comes into contact with the sun’s rays it is seen as the smog that hangs in much of the nation’s air, aggravating respiratory problems for tens of millions of people.
An estimated 85 counties of the more than 700 that have monitoring stations exceed the current 80 parts per billion concentration, according to the latest EPA calculations. More than 320 counties exceed the tighter 75 parts per billion standard.
Health experts say smog under the current ozone regulation — even in areas where the limit is being met — causes hundreds of premature deaths among the elderly and health problems for thousands of young children and people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
An independent EPA advisory group of scientists last year said an ozone standard of 60 to 70 parts per billion is needed to provide an adequate margin of protection for the millions of people susceptible to respiratory problems.