The Quick Facts: Although the summer months may be the time of year we most want to be outside, they may be the worst time of year to do so since air pollution and “bad air” days can occur more frequently in many parts of the U.S. this time of year. EPA recently issued new regulations for air pollution to improving air quality as well as proposed rules that will require six states to participate in the program to reduce ozone-season nitrogen oxide emissions. To protect your children, and sensitive adult populations, from the effects of air pollution when playing outside, following the guidance outlined below.
The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule
The Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) is charged with protecting human health and the environment including the regulation of air pollution from fossil fuel, such as coal or oil, burning power plants. Air pollution can have negative impacts on health ranging from premature mortality to aggravated asthma. Those people most vulnerable to air pollution are sensitive populations, particularly children. See also Real Mama’s article “Smog Season Safety: How to Help Your Kids Enjoy the Outdoors While Reducing Risk from Harmful Air Pollution” by Special Contributor to Real Mama, Inc. Rebecca Watts Hull.
In addition, air pollution can contribute to global climate change as well as more regional impacts on the environment such as acid rain. Acid rain occurs when air pollution is brought down from the atmosphere by rain and causes acidification of lakes and streams making them uninhabitable by plants and animals – basically the plants and animals can’t breath. In addition, acid rain causes damage to trees, crops, historic buildings, and statues.
EPA has established national air quality standards to protect public health for five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act, ground-level ozone, particle pollution (also known as particulate matter), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. EPA requires industries that emit such pollution to comply with various regulations aimed at reducing air pollution and protecting the population and environment.
The new EPA Cross-State Air Pollution Rule requires 27 states to significantly improve air quality by reducing power plant emissions that contribute to ozone and/or fine particulate pollution in other states. Air pollution can certainly be local, but it can also be global and/or regional. Particularly in the eastern United States, prevailing winds blow from west to east so the pollution coming from one state can significantly impact another. Think of the weather map from your local news station. On the East coast, people are often concerned about what is happening in the middle of the country as a precursor to weather coming down the line. Similarly, air pollution from other states travels in much the same way. EPA’s new Rule is designed to account for that.
Specifically, the EPA rule requires a reduction by power plants of sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent by 2014 and nitrogen oxide emissions by 54 percent by 2014, from 2005 levels. Sulfur dioxide is primarily release from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal or oil to generate electricity at power plants. Sulfur dioxide, at high concentrations, can affect breathing, is the primary contributor to acid rain, and contributes to limited visibility in large parts of the country. Nitrogen oxides, or NOx, react in the atmosphere to create ozone and acid rain. Power plants will have to start cutting their sulfur dioxide emissions as early as January 2012 and nitrogen oxide emissions by May 2012.
In another regulatory action, EPA also issued a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking to require six states – Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin – to make summertime reductions in nitrogen oxide under the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule ozone-season control program. If finalized, this rule along with the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule are aimed at making sure that ozone-season nitrogen oxide emissions meet the 1997 8-hour Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard or what EPA has determined to be a “safe” level.
According to EPA, the projected amount to be spent by power plants, and others impacted, is $800 million in 2014 and the projected benefits will yield $120-280 billion in annual health and environmental benefits in 2014, including the value of avoiding 13,000 to 34,000 premature deaths.
Ways to Protect Your Family From Exposure to Air Pollution
- Keep kids inside on days when air quality is bad. Check the website http://www.airnow.gov to get real-time air quality reports for over 300 cities across the U.S.
- Reduce energy consumption because the less power required to be generated means the less fossil fuels required to be burned.
- Plant trees to help absorb particulates and improve air quality.
- Avoid being outside when lawnmowers, leaf-blowers, and other outdoor equipment are being used to protect kids from exhaust fumes as well as noise.
Information used in this article was found at the following sources, which you can visit if you want to find out more about this topic:
http://www.airnow.gov/ (AIRNow Website developed by the U.S. EPA, NOAA, NPS, tribal, state, and local agencies to provide the public with easy access to national air quality information. The Web site offers daily AQI forecasts as well as real-time AQI conditions for over 300 cities across the US, and provides links to more detailed State and local air quality Web site).
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/07/us-usa-epa-smog-idUSTRE7664GD20110707 (Article entitled, EPA rule aims to cut smog, soot from coal plants, July 7, 2011, by Timothy Gardner and Tom Doggett)
http://www.epa.gov/airtransport/ (EPA’s Final Cross State Air Pollution Rule, issued July 6, 2011, requires 27 states to significantly improve air quality by reducing power plant emissions that contribute to ozone and/or fine particulate pollution in other states)