April 22, 2008 -- A National Academy of sciences panel concluded Tuesday
that short-term exposure to ozone pollution is directly linked to poor health
in humans, batting down White House contentions that the link between pollution
and early death was unclear.
Ozone is the main component of smog and is released to the environment
mostly from cars, trucks, machine engines, and factories.
Environmental agencies and health groups have long recognized the link
between breathing smog pollution and declining human health. But National
Academies experts Tuesday waded into a debate, largely within the Bush
administration, about whether the connection applies beyond the elderly and
people with respiratory disease.
"Based on a review of recent research, the committee found that deaths
related to ozone exposure are more likely among individuals with pre-existing
diseases and other factors that could increase their susceptibility. However,
premature deaths are not limited to people who are already within a few days of
dying," a statement from the panel said.
Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency lowered acceptable ozone
levels for U.S. cities. The agency lowered its standard to 0.075 parts per
million (ppm). That was despite an earlier recommendation by the agency's Clean
Air Science Advisory Committee that a level between 0.06 and 0.07 ppm was
needed "to protect human health."
Steven Johnson, the EPA's administrator, told reporters last month that the
0.075 level was "health protective."
But environmental and government watch-dog groups have complained that White
House officials intervened to prevent the EPA from setting stronger standards
that would have been more costly for industry. Part of the dispute was how much
weight to give the financial and health benefits of cutting ozone
A June 2007 statement from the White House Office of Information and
Regulatory Affairs questioned the link between surface ozone and health as
the EPA was mulling its new smog standards.
The statement pointed to "considerable uncertainty in the magnitude of
the association between ozone and premature mortality."
"It is a very big slam at the Bush administration," said Frank
O'Donnell, president of the environmental group Clean Air Watch, said of the
National Academies report. O'Donnell said that the Bush administration has
"consistently tried to sweep the ozone-death connection under the
A spokesperson at the White House Office of Management and Budget referred
questions about Tuesday's report to the EPA.
A statement from EPA spokesman Jonathan Schrader did not address the White
House's influence over the agency's ozone rules. The EPA "will begin
incorporating several key recommendations immediately, such as refining how
ozone-related mortality is included in our future benefits analyses," the