Dirty, Muggy Summer Air Reminds Us Why We Need Stronger Air Quality Standards that Cut Pollution

Today it was 111°F in Phoenix, AZ; tomorrow a high of 107°F is predicted. More than 70 days this summer have topped 100°F in central Texas. Much of the West still swelters under record-breaking summer heat.

NRDCs new “Climate Change Threatens Health” webpages map five environmental health threats already happening across the US, and detail how climate change can increase those health vulnerabilities where we live.

Earlier this summer, I blogged on one of those climate-health threats, Air Pollution, and the ways that rising temperatures worsen air pollution and harm children’s respiratory health.

Now that it’s late August, two critical pieces of timing are worth repeating.

  • One: late summer and fall is when both ground-level ozone smog and ragweed pollen production are at their peak in many parts of the U.S. – and that poses a very unfortunate “double-whammy” to the health of tens of millions of American with seasonal allergies and the nation’s 24 million asthmatics. Asthma is a disease affected by multiple factors, and air pollution is one major type of exposure that can worsen its symptoms.
  • Two: very soon we should hear about the new federal National Ambient Air Quality Standard (or NAAQS) for ground-level ozone.  This is a big deal for the nation’s health, since moving to a more health-protective standard could save up to 12,000 lives; prevent up to 58,000 asthma attacks; and mean 21,000 hospital and emergency room visits can be avoided – each year.

A lower, more health-protective standard has been endorsed by medical authorities and the EPA’s own Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC).

The announcement of the new NAAQS on ozone are awaited with much anticipation. A lot is at stake in terms of reducing ozone smog concentrations today, prolonging years of healthy, productive life, and avoiding terrible future costs to people’s health.

New research shows that, as climate change continues to ramp up temperatures and ozone concentrations, asthma Emergency Room visits among children could increase by 7.3% in the NY metropolitan region in the 2020s. That is, unless we take decisive action to reduce allowable ozone exposures and to reduce the carbon pollution that causes climate change.

Important days are ahead, for our health, and especially for our children’s health.