By Dr. Mercola
Under the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for setting National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for various air pollutants, ozone included.
But their latest ruling on ozone is riddled in controversy, as opponents state it is not only unsupported by scientific evidence but also set to cost the United States dearly in the form of a trillion dollars and millions of lost jobs.
What's the New Ozone Standard All About?
In 2009, the EPA decided it would reconsider the ozone standard, which was set at 0.075 parts per million (ppm) in 2008. In 2010, they proposed a new standard in the range of 0.060 to 0.070 ppm, with an additional secondary "seasonal" (and even more stringent) standard designed to protect sensitive vegetation and ecosystems, including forests, parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas during the summer.
The final rule was released at the end of July 20111 after a temporary delay.At the time, opponents like Andrew Grossman, a frequent adviser to Congress on complex legal and policy issues, had rejoiced, statingii :
"Congress should make the EPA's temporary postponement of its new ozone standards a permanent one."
In the end, the EPA set the new ozone standard at 0.070 ppm. Why all the backlash over what seems on face value to be a positive move for health and the environment?
Questionable Science: Are Ozone Risks Exaggerated?
Most of you have probably heard of ozone before, likely in relation to its role as an air pollutant. But you should know that ozone is not inherently bad, nor dangerous. It is actually the way that nature cleans and removes pollutants naturally from the air outside.
Ozone is simply an oxygen molecule with an extra atom attached… the chemical symbol is O3… the extra oxygen atom makes it a somewhat aggressive oxidizer. Why is the extra oxygen atom important? The interesting thing about ozone is that it uses this extra ozone to decimate air pollution. Once it oxidizes an air pollutant, it loses one of its oxygen atoms and turns back into pure oxygen (O2).
It is true that ozone in excessively high levels can cause breathing trouble, but the part that is never mentioned is that you breathe ozone every day, and that's just fine. It's a normal part of your air supply, and a normal part of earth's atmosphere. It is only when ozone levels are excessive that health problems can occur. After all, even water and sunlight are harmful in excess.
Is the EPA's Ozone Standard Based on Flawed Science?
The EPA's suggested revision to the ozone NAAQS appears to be based on flawed science. As a report by NERA Economic Consulting revealed:
"EPA's statements on health benefits from lowering the Ozone NAAQS grossly misrepresent what EPA is actually estimating as the potential benefits of reducing public exposures to ozone. If based on ozone benefits alone, not one of EPA's estimates of the benefits of reducing ozone to a tighter alternative ozone standard is as large as the costs of attaining that respective ozone standard -- all cost more than the ozone benefits they might provide."
According to the report:
- The EPA has included ozone reduction benefits based on ozone-related mortality, even though EPA's science advisors found no "causal" link between ozone and mortality
- The EPA has included benefits from concomitant reductions in particulate matter (PM) that may occur while reducing ozone precursors. Particulate matter is an entirely different issue from ozone, and describes particles in the air, such as dust, dirt, soot, smoke and other toxins from diesel fumes and other sources.
As the report stated:
"The only way EPA finds benefits greater than costs for a tighter ozone standard is to add in health gains from concomitant reductions in PM2.5 that may occur while reducing ozone precursors -- "co-benefits" that have nothing to do with ozone exposures. Thus, EPA's claim that tightening the Ozone NAAQS has greater benefits than costs has nothing to do with reducing risks from ozone."
Grossman further expanded on the EPA's decision to include particulate matter in with their ozone analysis:
"The biggest purported benefits—alleged to be worth tens of billions of dollars per year—have to do not with ozone but with reductions in airborne particulate matter that would supposedly be achieved by the emissions controls required to meet a new ozone standard. This claim is speculative, because the "unknown technologies" necessary to comply may or may not achieve these reductions.
Moreover, the EPA claims these same benefits for its rule on interstate air pollution, its massively expensive Utility MACT proposal, and its NAAQS for fine particulate matter and sulfur dioxide. If a private entity followed the EPA's lead and quintuple-counted profits, its executives would wind up in prison."
There are other questionable aspects to the EPA's new NAAQS as well. For instance, the stricter standard is based on a controversial re-analysis of two small studies. As Grossman states:
"The EPA's re-analysis has proven controversial and been criticized by the two studies' author and other scientists. For example, CASAC [Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee] member Dr. Sverre Vedal of the University of Washington stated that the EPA's re-analysis "amounts to attempting to find effects in a very few individuals when the statistical tests are not significant." And former CASAC chair Roger McClellan testified, 'The validity of this re-interpretation and the significance of the functional changes is open to debate.'"
The standard is also moving closer to background levels that exist naturally in the environment, making it difficult if not possible to attain in some areas. The costs are going to be extraordinary no matter what, with one study by Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI suggesting the stricter ozone standard could cost the U.S. economy more than $1 trillion per year from 2020 to 2030 while cutting 7.3 million jobs.
Natural Ozone is Safe
Much of the misunderstanding surrounding ozone has been spewed by the commercial industry, including manufacturers of ozone-free air purifiers who have used negative marketing to their advantage, jumping on the ozone-will-kill-you bandwagon in an attempt to skewer the competition. But ozone is a natural component of the earth's atmosphere, considered by many scientists to be nature's method for cleaning the air we breathe.
- Made in nature by ultra violet (UV) energy from the sun striking oxygen molecules
- Created by lightning – The fresh air you smell after a thunderstorm is due to the ozone cleaning effect on the air.
- A component of ground-level air wherever you go on the earth – Such has been the case since the beginning of time.
At the appropriate natural levels like you find outside on a non-polluted day, ozone is not only effective, it's naturally safe … typical levels run 0.01 to 0.05 ppm. This is why, when it comes to ozone air purifiers, as long as they limit ozone levels in your home to between 0.02 and 0.04 ppm, they offer great health benefits, without any of the negative effects.
Ozone Purifiers are Also Very Safe if Used Correctly
It is important to understand that air purifiers incorporating ozone use an active process and do not physically capture any indoor air pollutants. Rather they generate a safe dose of ozone that will oxidize and permanently remove the pollutants just the way they do outdoors in Mother Nature.
When it comes to air purification units for your home, the EPA has established clear ozone limits for occupied spaces … and that's 0.05 ppm. And this establishment by the EPA seems to make a great deal of sense since typical levels outdoors are present at 0.05 ppm and are still considered safe.
So there is no reason to be fearful of ozone, as it is safe at natural levels and actually used in nature to oxidize pollutants and clean the air.
You certainly do not want to expose yourself to high levels of man-made ozone, that is, the ozone the EPA calls "ground-level" ozone that is formed when two types of pollutants (volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen) react in the presence of sunlight. This ozone is a direct product of industry, motor vehicles, and toxic consumer products like paints and cleaners, and may cause breathing trouble, lung damage and other health effects with continued exposure.
If ozone were not safe, you would not be able to breathe the air outside, especially on a clear sunny day; during a thunderstorm, lightning, or after a rain shower. The fact is, when used responsibly, ozone is very safe, just like oxygen, and is very beneficial to our planet and all living things on it.
If you are interested in an extensive reference of scientific articles about ozone's medical uses, refer to this list, compiled by Ed McCabe. And finally, if you are interested in making the air you breathe on a daily basis in your home and office cleaner, you can find 15 of my top strategies here.