Ozone pollution amplifies risk of fatal respiratory illnesses

Posted on May 17, 2009 in Uncategorized

By Liz Szabo, USA TODAY
For the first time, a large study shows the deadly effects of chronic exposure to ozone, one of the most widespread pollutants in the world and a key component of smog, according to a study in today’s New England Journal of Medicine.
Doctors have long known that ground-level ozone – which is formed when sunlight interacts with pollution from tailpipes and coal-burning power plants – can make asthma worse. This study, which followed nearly 450,000 Americans in 96 metropolitan areas for two decades, also shows that ozone increases deaths from respiratory diseases.
OZONE LEVELS: Cities’ rankings

This ground-level ozone has very different effects than the ozone layer high above the Earth, which helps filter out harmful ultraviolet radiation, says lead author Michael Jerrett, an associate professor of environmental health sciences at the University of California-Berkeley.

Although Jerrett found there was no safe level of ground-level ozone, some cities fare worse than others. People in Riverside, Calif., the highest ozone city, were 32% more likely to die in a given year of respiratory diseases compared with people in San Francisco, the city with lowest average annual ozone concentrations.
Ozone pollution likely translates into thousands of additional deaths every year across the USA, Jerrett says. About 240,000 Americans a year die of respiratory illnesses.

Controlling ozone – one of the main greenhouse gases involved in global warming – may both save lives and also fight global climate change, Jerrett says.

The study shows yet another way that air pollution can harm public health, says Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of national policy and advocacy for the American Lung Association.

“It doesn’t have to be a peak ozone day to be a problem,” says Nolen, who wasn’t involved with the new study. “If you’re breathing it day in and day out over a longer period of time, the risk of premature death increases.”

The study also suggests the Environmental Protection Agency may need to reconsider its safety standard for ozone, Nolen says. Instead of just looking at the effect of being exposed to peak ozone levels, the agency may need to look at long-term exposure to lower levels of the gas.

Last year, the EPA changed its air quality standards for ground-level ozone from an average of 84 parts per billion to 75 parts per billion over an eight-hour period, although the agency’s scientific advisers had urged an even tougher standard of 60 to 70 parts per billion.

One in three Americans lives in a city that’s in violation of the EPA’s current ozone standard, Jerrett says.

President Obama’s new EPA chief, Lisa Jackson, told USA TODAY last month that the agency should reconsider the ozone standard. “We need to go back to the basics here: science and the law,” she said.

Contributing: Traci Watson

Ozone levels

An 18-year study of 96 metro areas finds that long-term exposure to ozone raises the risk of dying from respiratory problems. Here are cities’ ozone levels (in parts per billion):

Rank

City

State

Ozone levels, in parts per billion

1 San Francisco CA 33

2 Salinas-Seaside-Monterrey CA 41

3 Portland OR-WA 41

4 Seattle-Everett WA 41

5 Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood FL 42

6 Corpus Christi TX 42

7 Tacoma WA 43

8 Vallejo-Fairfield-Napa CA 45

9 Minneapolis-St.Paul MN-WI 48

10 Portsmouth-Dover-Rochester NH-NE 50

11 Chicago IL 51

12 Utica-Rome NY 51

13 Flint MI 51

14 Madison WI 51

15 Lansing-East Lansing MI 51

16 Orlando – 52

17 New Orleans LA 52

18 Kansas City MO 52

19 San Jose CA 52

20 Wichita KS 52

21 San Antonio TX 52

22 Colorado Springs CO 52

23 Detroit MI 52

24 Charleston-North Charleston SC 53

25 Portland ME 53

26 Tampa-St Petersburg-Clearwater FL 54

27 Worcester MA 54

28 Rochester NY 54

29 Jacksonville FL 54

30 Syracuse NY 54

31 Milwaukee-Waukesha WI 55

32 Gary-Hammond-East Chicago IN 56

33 Springfield-Chicopee-Holyoke,MA – 56

34 Nassau-Suffolk NY 56

35 Providence RI 56

36 Jackson MS 56

37 Nashville-Davidson TN 56

38 New York NY-NJ 56

39 Columbus OH 57

40 South Bend IN 57

41 Greeley CO 57

42 Toledo OH-MI 57

43 Cleveland OH 57

44 Racine WI 57

45 Oklahoma City OK 57

46 Steubenville-Weirton OH-WV 57

47 El Paso TX 57

48 Charleston WV 57

49 Kenosha WI 58

50 Pittsburgh PA 58

51 Youngstown-Warren OH 58

52 Johnstown PA 58

53 Tucson AZ 59

54 Little Rock-North Little Rock AR 59

55 Harrisburg PA 59

56 Lexington-Fayette KY 59

57 St. Louis MO-IL 59

58 Shreveport LA 59

59 New Haven-West Haven CT 59

60 Evansville IN-KY 60

61 Newark NJ 60

62 York PA 60

63 Huntington-Ashland WV-KY-OH 60

64 Reading PA 60

65 Denver CO 60

66 Indianapolis IN 61

67 Roanoke VA 61

68 Dayton OH 61

69 Lancaster PA 61

70 Jersey City NJ 62

71 Washington DC-MD-VA 62

72 Dallas TX 62

73 Hamilton-Middletown OH 62

74 Las Vegas NV 62

75 Columbia SC 63

76 Cinncinnati OH-KY-IN 63

77 Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Portsmouth VA-NC 63

78 Greensboro-Winston Salem-High Point NC 63

79 Memphis TN-AR-MS 63

80 Knoxville TN 64

81 Wilmington DE-NJ-MD 64

82 Philadelphia PA-NJ 64

83 Phoenix AZ 64

84 Greenville-Spartanburg SC 64

85 Houston TX 65

86 Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill NC 65

87 Richmond VA 65

88 Sacramento CA 65

89 Chatanooga TN-GA 65

90 San Diego CA 66

91 Trenton NJ 66

92 Charlotte-Gastonia NC 66

93 San Buenoventura (Ventura) CA 75

94 Fresno CA 76

95 Los Angeles-Long Beach CA 91

96 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario CA 104

Source: Michael Jerrett,University of California-Berkeley