Air pollution standards: Will the next debacle be about lead?
Posted March 17, 2008
This past week, the EPA gave itself another black eye by adopting a standard for ozone (smog) pollution that EPA science advisors say is inadequate to protect human health or the environment. Check out the Washington Post story here. Worse still, documents have since come out showing that the White House trumped both the scientists and the EPA -- requiring the Agency to issue a weaker rule than originally intended.
I care a lot about ozone air pollution, since I see asthmatic people all the time who are affected on "spare the air" days, and I know the scientific evidence that shows how unhealthy the current ozone standard is for my patients. But I'm also really worried about the signal this sends for other important air quality decisions in the EPA pipeline over the coming months.
The EPA air quality standard for toxic lead was set in 1978. Decades of science later, it's now clear that the 30 year old standard won't protect children's health. A great community group, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, sued EPA to force them to revisit this outdated standard. Now EPA must act by September. You might think this will be a good thing, since lead is generally recognized to be the number one environmental threat to children's health. But this Administration has shown how much it cares about human health when it set the ozone standard last week.
In fact, the EPA Administrator is seriously considering alternatives that include completely eliminating the air quality standard for lead, or keeping in place the 1978 standard. These proposals are totally at odds with the unanimous opinion of two EPA scientific advisory committees. We expect a formal proposal from EPA within the next month.
Stay tuned for this key decision. We'll need all the help we can get if EPA proposes to throw public health out the window again.