HOUSTON, TX – Today the United States Environmental Protection Agency lowered the federal standard for ozone air pollution. The new standard of 70 parts per billion (ppb) will provide additional public health benefits in Houston and across the nation.
Ozone is a pervasive air pollutant in Houston. Ozone pollution can cause everything from itchy eyes and sore throats to asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, and premature death. Ozone is formed at ground level when other air pollutants combine in the atmosphere.
The announcement comes at a difficult time for air pollution in Houston. This year Houston has seen 38 days above the previous ozone standard of 75 ppb. This is a sharp increase over 2014, when only 14 high ozone days occurred. Houston has never met a federal ozone standard and has been designated “nonattainment” for ozone since the early 1980’s. A nonattainment designation has broad consequences for a region, with everything from vehicle emissions tests to stricter industry permitting requirements.
“Houston needs this new standard,” said Air Alliance Houston executive director Adrian Shelley. “The more we learn about ozone, the more we understand its negative effects on public health. Houston has not reduced ozone pollution in the last several years, and a new, lower ozone standard will help us continue to improve public health in Houston. Air Alliance Houston recommended a standard as low as 60 ppb, which would have provided further health benefits for the region.”
Research by Doctors Kathy Ensor and Loren Raun at Rice University has shown the negative health effects of high ozone in Houston. When ozone levels are increased by 20 ppb over a three-day period, asthma attacks increase by 5%. Just three hours of a 20 ppb increase in ozone levels can lead to a 4% increase in heart attacks. These findings are based on twelve years of 911 calls in Houston.
Air Alliance Houston and the University of Houston worked together to create the Houston Clean Air Network, a website and smartphone app that provide real-time ozone levels throughout Houston. By downloading the free ‘OzoneMap’ app or visiting houstoncleanairnetwork.com, Houstonians can check ozone levels where they live, work, and play.
The new ozone standard has been widely criticized by members of industry, who insist that the costs of implementing a new ozone standard will outweigh the benefits. In the past, similar claims have not proven to be true. The EPA’s own analysis of the new ozone standard demonstrate that the public health benefits will far outweigh the cost of implementing the new standard.