EPA Missed Deadline for Ozone Clean Up Standards

As environmentally conscious people, we all long to see the day that the topics of smog and emissions take a front seat in politics.  But as savvy Americans, we also understand that the current state of the economy, the financial future of the country, is always going to be a hotter topic on the minds of politicians and the public at large.

So recently when an article was released in the LA Times detailing that the EPA was going to miss a self imposed deadline for determining the necessary tougher standards on smog emissions, I had to ask – where does health rate on the sliding scale of priorities?

The article indicated that the first deadline of July 29 was pushed back to August 12, 2011.  Both deadlines were self imposed by the Agency.  Unfortunately the LA Times didn’t write a follow-up article to indicate whether the Environmental Protection Agency came through on “issuing rules on low-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog” so I started looking into the topic.  It turns out that it was a group of environmentalists suing the agency back in 2008 during the Bush administration that prompted the imposed on the EPA to determine the deadlines in the first place.

What Is Low-level Ozone?

The short answer is that it is the atmosphere around us, the air we breathe every day.  The long answer brings to light why standards for lowering it are in order.

In describing the ozone layer the Earth Observatory page on the NASA website indicates:

“In the stratosphere, ozone shields us from the Sun’s deadly ultraviolet radiation. But in the troposphere, this same gas impairs lung capacity and reduces agricultural productivity. Both human activities and natural processes generate the chemical compounds that serve as “precursors” to the formation of ozone. Currently, human activities generate about as much ozone as natural processes do, creating a public health hazard.”

Since we as humans have created a goodly portion of the low-level ozone, it seems only right that we should be the ones to fix the problem.  This is why, as citizens we rely on organizations like the EPA to set standards so the manufacturers and businesses that create smog emitting products and processes can be held to a higher standard and we can all enjoy a healthier quality of air to breathe.

The deeper rooted issue lies in what could happen if the EPA does eventually get together to set those standards.

The Catch

As I continued to read the LA Times article something vital jumped out at me that seemed an even greater risk than the missing of a deadline.

“Research shows that living in areas with high concentrations of ozone worsens respiratory ailments. The EPA estimates that up to 12,000 lives could be saved annually from implementing the new standards…But stricter ozone limits would affect power plants, refineries and a range of manufacturing, some of which might move to countries with weaker standards, lobbyists said.”

This raised a red flag for me in many aspects and I posed the question whether the entire issue is a big catch-22.  If the standards are raised, we will be able to breathe easier and clearly could save thousands of lives.  But, if those producing the smog in the first place just move to another country to continue in the same manner they always have, not only does it impact the health of those people but it reduces the job market in our country.

The staggering catch at first made me feel a little sad, helpless, like there was nothing I could do even if the EPA came up with a solid plan.

As part of the EcoEtsy team, I know that our members are all green-minded entrepreneurs.  But the fact remains that we run businesses and sometimes produce our own emissions from the manufacture of our products.  It isn’t that we mean to or even want to but some emission is inevitable in daily life.


But then I got to thinking, why would we rely solely on an organization to tell us what the standards are?  Why aren’t we holding ourselves to a higher standard in the first place?

So What Can We Do About It?

That is the key – what can we do about it?!

Some ways to lower emissions and do our part to start reversing the problem without even getting a single governmental agency involved are:

  • Ride a bike instead of driving
  • Do all your errands that require a car on the same day and if possible, in the same general vicinity
  • Recycle/upcycle items into something new to extend their lifecycle and to prevent creation of new materials at factories/plants
  • Grow oxygen producing plants that help clean the air
  • Unplug/turn off anything not currently in use
  • Lessen time on the computer or other energy drawing devices
  • Use reusable shopping bags and refuse a bag for small purchases
  • Install energy efficient products (only when the old ones are totally worn out of course!) such as light bulbs, appliances, etc.
  • Utilize geographic specific landscaping that requires less energy to maintain
  • Turn down the heat/AC
  • Install programmable thermostats that allow for more efficient management of the above
  • Check labels and try to avoid items that are heavily processed and/or contain petroleum (including the packaging!)
  • Buy locally grown and organic produce
  • Eat less meat
  • Work from home
  • Pass on suggestions and advice to those who may not know their own impact
  • And most importantly – DO YOUR RESEARCH!  (Yes I’m shouting because it is crucial)

There are so many more ways to reduce our own emissions that the places to find information are long and broad, but a great place to start is the EPA’s own FAQ page on emissions.  There you can get a feel for what it is the EPA will be addressing with these new standards to begin with.  And it never hurts to get actively involved in your community as well.  Writing to local officials that it is an issue close to our hearts means the seeds are planted (no pun intended!) that we truly do care about our own respiratory health as well as the health of those in other countries.

Americans are responsible for the greatest number of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, so, as an American, I for one pledge to take a stand as someone who owns up to the mistakes of my past eco-indiscretions and will make the greatest possible effort to do my part in putting a stop to the trend before its too late.

1. Wikimedia Commons
2. Wikimedia Commons
3. Michael Bryant, Philadelphia Inquirer / October 23, 2008

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  1. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this article! The fact that you offered info and stats to back up your findings is awesome! My neighbor, who happens to be a Biologist, is always talking geographic specific landscaping. . . what a novel idea, grow what naturally grows! There are lots of easy ways to prevent our earth from crumbling beneath us. Now we just need more ACTION!! Thanks for a terrific article!!

    • Aw thanks Nikki! Yes the landscaping has become so much more apparent of an issue since moving to the southwest. I’ve met a lot of people who complain about mowing their lawn in the 114 degree temps. But if they used desert friendly plantings (ie – NOT a lawn that needs constant water in this climate, hello?) there would be no need to be outside in this oppressive weather mowing anything! I’m thinking of writing that as my concept paper for school actually, after its graded maybe it will make an appearance here :-)

  2. Used the FB share tool at the top to link to our FB Fan Page for the first time. What a great tool. This was a fabulous article!!!

  3. It’s so easy to blame ‘others’ and what the gov’t is not doing but like Lori said, WE are the ones who have to make the difference. It’s OUR problem!

    • That’s pretty much what went through my head while writing this Karen, if each person is held accountable for their own actions, holds themselves accountable, we can all make that little dent. Collectively that’s a pretty big dent!

  4. Really well-written article with a good grassroots perspective!
    If anyone would like to see the progress that New Jersey has made in ozone and smog reduction, I invite you to read the following article:
    Lioy P.J. and Georgopoulos P.G. (2011). New Jersey: A case study of the reduction in urban and suburban air pollution from the 1950s to 2010. Environmental Health Perspectives. http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1103540
    If you cannot access the article and would like to read it, let me know and I will post a copy.

    • Its great to see that significant changes have been made in NJ Linda! This is where individuals can really shine, like you said, in that grassroots mentality. If each individual does their part, comes together in a group, spreads to a state, spreads to a country, it can spread to the world. I know that’s probably overly optimistic but I can’t help it, studies this this are what make me think it IS possible! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Great post!! While I wish the news wasn’t that the targets were missed, I really like how you explained the situation and then shifted to what we can do to make a positive impact moving forward!

    • Thanks Lori,
      I was starting to get really discouraged while researching & writing and finally just thought ‘hold on a second here!’ We can all make a difference we just have to be willing to do it!