As the public comment period for a newly proposed national limit on ozone pollution (smog) came to a close this week, hundreds of organizations and concerned individuals from across the nation expressed their support for improved public health, cleaner air, and a more protective ozone standard of 60 parts per billion (ppb).
“As members of a community severely impacted by the fracking industry, we strongly support EPA’s effort to strengthen the law setting ozone limits,” said John Williams of Frack Free Mahoning Valley. “At the current standard of 75 ppb, ozone often triggers asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing, and can send people with lung diseases like asthma to the emergency room and the hospital. The standard should be decreased to 60 ppb, the level called for by the American Lung Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, and other medical groups.”
High levels of ozone pollution are a leading factor contributing to asthma and have been linked to a range of other health impacts. Vulnerable populations, such as children and the elderly, people of color, and low-income communities carry a disproportionate burden of healthcare costs and emotional impacts caused by ozone pollution. People from impacted areas are urging the EPA to take strong action to protect those living and working in communities where oil and gas development is taking place.
Ozone pollution can be especially concentrated near oil and gas development operations, such as fracking. Fracking operations release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in many phases of the process. These VOCs then mix with the nitrogen oxide (NOx) in diesel exhaust from the heavy truck traffic at fracking sites to produce ozone. Fracking has caused some of our nation’s most rural areas to experience unprecedented levels of ozone pollution:
"In the wide open spaces of Western Wyoming, we live to breathe clean air and enjoy broad, beautiful vistas,” stated Linda F. Baker of the Upper Green River Alliance. “But without a clean air standard that truly protects our health and communities, we all lose those starry skies and that hundred-mile gaze. It's time to set an ozone standard that keeps us healthy and hardy; one that we can be proud of for decades to come."
The EPA was mandated by court order to update allowable limits on ozone (smog) pollution. Hundreds of thousands of concerned individuals and organizations submitted comments urging the administration to set a limit based on the best current science regarding the health impacts from ozone pollution. The move was opposed by fossil fuel and chemical industry special interests who claim the costs of implementation will be damaging to the economy. However, current estimates by the EPA show that for every dollar spent to reduce ozone levels through the new standard will have $1.25 - $2.50 in benefits.
The following are statements from organizations urging the EPA to take strong, science-based action on the ozone standards and to address the exposures in the most impacted communities when making their decision:
“Houston has been under non-attainment for ozone since the creation of the Clean Air Act. Now, that's probably a record that no other city has, unless the City of Los Angeles beats us out,” said Juan Parras of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.) “The facts for the Houston area are that we all sacrifice our health and pay a high price for it due to ozone/smog levels, particularly those communities on the fence-line bordering the heavily industrialized Houston Ship Channel. We know what triggers asthma attacks and other related health problems: high levels of ozone. The EPA is right to recommend lowering the Ozone standard to 60ppm. We're calling on the EPA and the Obama Administration to protect our communities from toxic air pollution, and we're calling on them to do everything within their power to protect our health. Houston deserves it, as does the rest of the country.”
"As a resident of southeast Ohio, I am highly supportive of a 60 ppb ozone standard," said Heather Cantino, Steering Committee Chair of Athens County Fracking Action Network. "In our region we have around-the-clock venting from frack waste storage tanks and diesel truck emissions, which creates the perfect environment for ozone production. As Ohio's number one recipient of out-of-state liquid frack waste, the health of our community depends on strong regulations to reduce harmful exposures to pollutants such as ozone."
"The State of Wyoming has one ozone nonattainment area located in the Upper Green River Basin,” said Deb Thomas of Shale Test. “Even though the Upper Green is one of the least populated areas of the country, it's home to one of the largest gas fields in the nation. Flaring of gases, venting of volatile organic chemicals, failing infrastructure, and bad practices continue to impact the health of workers and people living with this gas development. Although the State and the Federal governments are addressing ozone issues in these areas, cumulative risks need to be taken into account in order to protect our air and our people from the impacts of oil and gas development."
"People in Arkansas are very concerned about air pollution -- and equally concerned about the government's responsibility to protect our health from dangerous emissions like ozone. From the moment drilling and fracking entered our community, strange smells filled my nose," said Emily Lane of ArkansasFracking.org. "The pollution from gas drilling isn't always the same. Sometimes it smells like sweet perfume, other times acetone or diesel fuel, but it often makes me feel extremely nauseous. The haze near gas drilling sites has increased dramatically over these last few years and I’ve grown very tired of living in a 'fog' of ozone and toxic air pollution. I try not to think about what our air is going to be like in 5 or 10 years. I urge the EPA to do everything in their power to protect our health by limiting ozone pollution."
“We urge the EPA to strengthen the national standards on ground level ozone pollution. We know from air monitoring research we’ve conducted with impacted community groups that local ozone levels resulting from oil and gas development are unsafe", said Ellen Webb with the Center for Environmental Health. "Quite simply: ozone kills. A standard set at 60 ppb will prevent up to 7,900 premature deaths and 1.8 million asthma attacks. Asthma now affects one in ten children and is a greater problem in low-income communities and communities of color because they are more likely to live near sources of pollution. It’s time to listen to the scientific consensus and lower ozone levels to 60 ppb in order to protect public health and our children.”
“As a nurse-midwife, I know how crucial clean air is to healthy pregnancies,” stated Katie Huffling, RN, CNM with the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. “Current research is showing risks to pregnancies, including birth defects and low birth-weight babies, in mothers living closest to fracking sites. By lowering the ozone standard to a more protective level of 60 ppb, the EPA can begin to address the many health risks facing pregnant women living and working in communities with fracking.”
"I live over the Marcellus shale in northeast Pennsylvania and I’m surrounded by three unconventional gas well pads and a compressor station all within a mile of my home” said Barbara Clifford of Breathe Easy Susquehanna County. “I know people who have had to leave because of health impacts related to toxic emissions from unconventional natural gas development. Other families cannot afford to leave as their property has become worthless. It is dismaying to me knowing that emissions are allowed for each site as if the safe maximum will not be exceeded without taking into account the cumulative impact of all the other sites. I feel like we are gambling with our health when I smell sharp chemicals drifting in the air, making it impossible to breathe. We need the EPA to set much lower limits on allowable emissions and addressing ozone levels near fracking sites would be a good start. The EPA needs to follow the consensus of the scientific community and set a more protective ozone standard of 60 ppb."
To learn more about results from community air monitoring in those states near oil and gas development sites, including where hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” activities or waste disposal are taking place see the report: Warning Signs: Toxic Air Pollution Identified at Oil and Gas Sites.
For more information on the impacts of oil, gas and chemicals on public health and the environment, contact:
Katie Huffling, RN, MS, CNM; Director of Programs, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments; Co-Coordinator, Workgroup for Public Policy Reform, Coming Clean; (240) 753-3729, email@example.com. Katie can address concerns from nurses and helath care prodvers about chemical exposure issues.