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EPA Notifies New York State of Regions with Smog Problems

Release Date: 12/04/2003
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(#03141) New York, N.Y. -- Areas that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believes should be required to reduce emissions to meet new ground-level ozone health standards were identified in a letter sent to New York state today. The EPA letter is in response to the state's suggested boundaries for attainment and nonattainment areas for a new national ozone standard. Ozone at ground level, commonly known as "smog," is a public health concern because it can exacerbate already-existing respiratory problems, and may cause new respiratory ailments. Under a previous federal standard, the Agency determined that the New York City metropolitan area and western New York state had smog problems. Under the new more protective eight-hour standard, EPA has found that additional areas of New York state must also address smog problems, including: Syracuse, Rochester, the Capital District and Jamestown. EPA today informed New York of its intention to make these new designations, which, if finalized, would require the state to prepare a comprehensive clean air plan to address them. New York has an opportunity to respond to the Agency's proposals. EPA will make final designations by April 15, 2004.

"As our understanding of how pollution effects human health increases, we must broaden the scope of our efforts to protect the environment," said Jane M. Kenny, EPA Regional Administrator. "Under EPA's new air quality standard for smog, many states, including New York, will need to do more. We look forward to working with New York and with county and city governments to address this issue, and are confident that our efforts will result in healthier air across the state."

Under the federal Clean Air Act, EPA is required to create a health-based standard for smog. Based on information available at the time, EPA initially developed what is known as the "one-hour" standard for ozone of .12 parts per million (ppm). Under this older standard, levels of ozone were measured over a one hour period and compared to the .12ppm standard.

EPA is required to periodically review its standards for pollutants like ozone to determine if they continue to adequately protect public health and the environment. More recent health information led EPA to conclude that humans exposed to lower concentrations of ozone over longer periods of time were also at risk. In 1997, EPA adopted a more protective ozone standard, the "eight-hour" standard of .08 ppm. Consistent with the requirements of the Clean Air Act, New York state gave EPA its recommendations for areas that should be designated as non-attainment under the new standard. Today, EPA is responding to those recommendations. The state has until February 6, 2004 to supplement or revise its earlier recommendations with new or relevant technical data before EPA makes a final determination.

Smog is formed on hot, sunny days, when sunlight causes nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds to combine. These pollutants come from cars, trucks, power plants, refineries and other large industrial facilities and some natural sources. When inhaled, even at very low levels, ground-level ozone or smog can make people more susceptible to respiratory infection, result in inflammation of lung tissue, aggravate existing respiratory diseases such as asthma, and lead to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits. Ozone can cause significant decreases in lung function and increased respiratory symptoms such as chest pain and cough. EPA's new ozone standard is very conservative, aimed at protecting the most vulnerable members of the population children, people with asthma and the elderly.