The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency heard testimony all day at a Chicago hotel on its proposal to toughen the current ozone standard.
CHICAGO — Chicagoan Joe Wishnoff, who needs a double-lung transplant, has a hard time breathing every day, even with the aid of an oxygen inhaler.
Add smog to the mix, and it’s really tough, he says.
“If you have problems breathing (with smog), it’s 20 times worse for me,” said the 28-year-old DePaul University business student who has idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a degenerative lung condition. “I don’t really remember what it’s like to breathe normally, and this just doesn’t make it easier.”
Wishnoff was among several clean-air advocates in Illinois who urged federal regulators to impose stricter limits on ozone, a pollutant created when chemical emissions combine with sunlight. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency heard testimony all day at a Chicago hotel on its proposal to toughen the current ozone standard of 0.08 parts per million (ppm) by lowering it to between 0.070 ppm and 0.075 ppm.
Rebecca Stanfield, state director of Environment Illinois, said the agency should adopt an even tougher standard of 0.060 ppm because recent health studies indicate smog is even more harmful than previously thought.
Joel Africk, president and CEO of the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, said that “even a modest tightening” of the ozone standard could prevent up to 4,000 premature deaths each year across the nation.
“What is in the air can kill us, and just because you can’t smell it doesn’t mean it’s not a danger,” he said.
People with lung ailments are particularly vulnerable to smog. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who testified before the EPA panel Wednesday, said the at-risk group includes 1 million Illinoisans who have asthma.
Business interests who would be forced to reduce chemical emissions have opposed stricter ozone caps, and the U.S. EPA is also considering their arguments for keeping the standard the same. The present level dates back to 1997.
Giedrius Ambrozaitis of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said the current standard is “protective” of public health, and he disagreed that scientific evidence supports positions for lowering the threshold.
“Clearly the evidence does not support lowering the standard,” he told EPA staff.
The Chicago hearing was one of five the EPA conducted in different American cities. A final decision on the ozone standard is expected in March.
Go to www.epa.gov/ozonedesignations/ for more information about the process.
Mike Ramsey can be reached at (312) 857-2323 or firstname.lastname@example.org.