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Fewer Hazy Skies in Colorado? The EPA Debates Smog Limits

PHOTO: The smog that Denver residents and other Coloradans experience is the result of ground-level ozone, and can make breathing more difficult for many residents. The EPA is considering tougher smog standards. Photo credit: Payton Chung/Flickr Commons.
PHOTO: The smog that Denver residents and other Coloradans experience is the result of ground-level ozone, and can make breathing more difficult for many residents. The EPA is considering tougher smog standards. Photo credit: Payton Chung/Flickr Commons.
February 3, 2015

DENVER - Ground-level ozone, or smog, not only makes cities hazy on sunny days, it also causes breathing difficulties.

Smog is a byproduct of tailpipe and industrial emissions, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is debating strengthening the limit in smog to near 60 parts per billion from the current limit of 75.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, says smog is already linked to a number of health problems at current levels.

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

Some industry leaders say the current standard is effective, but Benjamin notes the EPA proposal is backed by solid science showing it isn't strong enough. Written comments on the proposal are being accepted until March 17.

According to the American Petroleum Institute (API), the stronger limit on smog would be expensive. Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy and education at the American Lung Association, says the standards are not set based on cost, but the levels at which air pollution is considered dangerous.

"You want your doctor to tell you what makes you sick, not what it'll cost to cure you," he says. "The API is really at the wrong part of the process. Cost and feasibility come into the conversation when we try to meet these standards, what strategies are employed."

The American Lung Association gave 10 Colorado counties failing grades for their numbers of high-ozone days in 2014.

The EPA smog standard hasn't been updated since 2008, and a final rule is expected by Oct. 1.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO