WASHINGTON, D.C. – The American Lung Association (ALA) is urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt stronger, health-based national air quality standards for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) than what the agency is currently proposing. At a public hearing in Washington, DC on Aug. 3, the ALA and other healthy air advocates called for tighter standards in regards to NO2.
Nitrogen dioxide is part of a group of gaseous air pollutants produced as a result of road traffic and other fossil fuel combustion processes. According to the EPA, NO2 acts mainly as an irritant affecting the mucosa of the eyes, nose, throat, and respiratory tract. Continued exposure to high NO2 levels can contribute to the development of acute or chronic bronchitis. Low level NO2 exposure may cause increased bronchial reactivity in some asthmatics, decreased lung function in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and increased risk of respiratory infections, especially in young children.
Kevin Stewart, director of Environmental Health for the ALA of the Mid-Atlantic, testified before the EPA, noting the health risks that NO2 poses to individuals. In the Mid-Atlantic region of Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, the populations potentially at risk to NO2 exposure include the following:
- 5.4 million infants, children and teens under 18
- 3.4 million persons aged 65 and above
- 500,000 children with asthma
- 1.6 million adults with asthma
- 640,000 persons with chronic bronchitis, and
- 330,000 persons with emphysema.
In addition to those statistics, Stewart said, “long-term NO2 exposure is associated with stunted lung function growth in children – a permanent loss, making them more susceptible to lung disease throughout their lives.”
In addition to increasing the frequency, duration, and severity of asthma attacks, adverse outcomes of exposure to NO2 include increased inflammation of the airways, coughing and wheezing, as well as reduced lung function and a greater likelihood of emergency department visits or even hospital admissions, according to Stewart.
“We strongly disagree with EPA’s rationale that ‘a standard level of 80 ppb would be expected to limit area-wide NO2 concentrations to approximately 50 ppb,” said Stewart. “It is time; indeed, it is past time that we remember that the Clean Air Act is a law for the protection of ALL Americans, and not just for some.
In brief, the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic urges EPA to do the following:
- Establish a one-hour NO2 standard of 50 ppb or below.
- Adopt a 99th-percentile form for this standard.
- Strengthen the annual average NO2 standard to 30 ppb or lower, as has already been pioneered by California.
- Establish a nationwide roadside NO2 monitoring network, independent of the level of the standard selected, sufficient to identify where concentrations are highest and to monitor the effectiveness of control measures.
EPA must set its final rule for NO2 air quality by Jan. 22, 2010. The Lung Association will continue to lobby for tighter NO2 pollution standards by participating fully in EPA led public hearings to advocate for air quality standards that best protect public health in all areas of the country.
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