New Ozone Standards Will Save Lives, Protect Health

03/06/2015 01:37 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2015

You and your family have a right to be protected from the dangers of air pollution. That's why, years ago, overwhelming bipartisan majorities in Congress passed our nation's clean air laws. Yet ozone pollution, also known as smog, persists at dangerous levels around the country and threatens the health of millions of people every year.

One big problem is that the official definition of how much ozone is safe to breathe -- known as the ozone standard -- is based on out-of-date science. Further, the current ozone air quality index -- which parents use to protect their children from harmful levels of air pollution in their communities -- is woefully misleading. Thousands of peer-reviewed medical studies confirm that current ozone limit fails to protect public health as the law requires.

The good news is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to strengthen the standard based on updated scientific evidence. They must do this if they are to follow the clear requirements of the law. Thousands of Americans have joined the American Lung Association and leading medical and public health groups to urge EPA to strengthen the ozone standard. Many of them even traveled to speak in person at EPA's public hearings held earlier this year.

Why are we all so concerned? Because millions of people, including healthy adults, remain at risk. Breathing ozone pollution irritates sensitive lung tissue, causes wheezing and coughing, and can trigger severe asthma attacks -- all of which can lead to missed days of work or school, frightening trips to the emergency room, or, worse, premature death. Our children face great risk because their lungs are still developing, but older adults and people with asthma or other respiratory conditions are especially vulnerable.

Healthy Air for Healthy People

American Lung Association volunteers from across the country testified at EPA hearings. Here's what some of them shared:

"Ozone pollution is very serious for me as an asthmatic pre-teen and athlete," said Jaxin Woodward, a 12-year-old star track athlete from California who dreams of bringing home two USA Track Youth Outdoor Championship medals this summer. "Although I take my medications and follow my treatment plan, smog keeps my respiratory system vulnerable, especially during the summer months when I am competing at championship levels."

Tyler Paul, like Jaxin, is also 12 and has asthma. He and his mother Laura felt so strongly about testifying that they took the time to travel from Clarendon, Texas, a small town outside Amarillo, to attend the public hearing in Dallas.

"Picture being underwater and something is preventing you from getting to the surface. You're running out of air, and there is nothing you can do about it. My asthma is like that," Tyler told the EPA. "It feels like there's an elephant standing on my chest. I may only be 12, but I know I have a right to clean air."


Laura and Tyler Paul, who both have asthma, testify to EPA about why stronger ozone standards are important to protect their health.

Clean air is also a concern for Beckie Geary, a registered nurse from North Carolina who not only has asthma but is a lung cancer survivor. With only one healthy lung remaining, she understands how important clean air is to her quality of life.

"I rely on the air quality index to let me know when the smog level is over the limit and I should stay indoors," said Beckie. "But right now that limit is out of date. There can be days when it's not safe for me to go outside and I might not even know it. We have the right to know what's in our air. That's why I am calling on the EPA to set a new limit on ozone that truly protects our health."

The current ozone standard of 75 parts per billion is based on outdated science and is too weak to offer adequate public health protection. That is why the American Lung Association, along with hundreds of volunteers and notable health experts, is urging the EPA to adopt a stronger, more protective standard of 60 parts per billion.

A new standard set at 60 parts per billion will prevent up to 7,900 premature deaths, 1.8 million childhood asthma attacks and 1.9 million missed days of school each year in 2025. These are real health benefits that will help real people like Jaxin, Tyler and Beckie.

Your Voice Matters: Take a Stand for Healthy Air!

The EPA is seeking comment from the public on the importance of a more protective ozone standard. The opportunity to share your comments ends on March 17. Together, we can win the fight for healthy air by raising our voices. Here's how:

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