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The Nation's Tailpipe? Speaking Out About Smog in Maine

PHOTO: The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking comment on proposed rules to update standards for ground-level ozone that impact Maine. Photo credit: Jeffrey B. Ferland/Wikimedia Commons
PHOTO: The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking comment on proposed rules to update standards for ground-level ozone that impact Maine. Photo credit: Jeffrey B. Ferland/Wikimedia Commons
February 2, 2015

PORTLAND, Maine – Because of Maine's location and the prevailing west-to-east winds, the state's unfortunate nickname in some quarters is the tailpipe of the nation, and public hearings on smog control are of great interest to some in the Pine Tree State.

At issue is how the nation should update standards for smog pollution, otherwise known as ground-level ozone.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, says ground-level ozone is an air pollutant and a byproduct of emissions from cars and smokestacks.

"It exacerbates people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and it causes not only just these attacks, but it can cause premature death and other morbidity. It's a significant problem, and we can address it by reducing the amount of ozone that's produced," he explains.

One in 10 Mainers, more than 138,000 people, suffer from asthma.

Oil industry leaders argue that the new proposed limits are expensive and say the current ozone standard (of 75 parts per billion) is already working.

Benjamin counters science indicates more lives can be saved with a tougher smog standard.

The American Petroleum Institute says it is both costly and unnecessary to update the regulations, but Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy and education with the American Lung Association, disagrees.

"The law requires that these standards be set based on science, at what levels of air pollution harms health, so health and cost feasibility are not part of the decision,” he points out. “You want your doctor to tell you what makes you sick, not what it'll cost to cure you."

Benjamin thinks the proposal to strengthen the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground-level ozone to a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion, still doesn't go far enough.

"Costs are considered as part of the process and there is a balance that you always have to do,” he explains. “But we can achieve these numbers for sure, and those of us who think that it needs to go down to 60 believe we can do that in a responsible manner without excessive costs."

According to a 2014 American Lung Association report, York and Hancock are the counties with the greatest number of days with dangerous ozone pollution levels.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ME