By ermingut courtesy iStockphoto

By ermingut courtesy iStockphoto

Yesterday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it is reversing its decision to delay the designation of areas that exceed the new 2015 ozone standards. The 2015 standards will reduce harm from pollution and improve air quality by lowering the bar for what constitutes too much ground-level ozone in a certain area, changing the standard from 75 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion.

The negative effects of ozone, also known as smog, are incontrovertible. Studies have shown that ozone can trigger asthma attacks, send people to the emergency room and hospital and even shorten lives. Newer research has linked ozone to cardiovascular disease, and to low birthweight in newborns and stillbirths. It goes without saying that the new standards will improve human health in the areas hardest hit by pollution. Cleaner air leads to safer, healthier communities.

In early June, EPA announced it would delay the new ozone standard of 70 parts per billion and push the process of identifying areas that don’t meet this standard for one year. APHA, American Lung Association, American Thoracic Society and several environmental organizations represented by EarthJustice took legal action to voice our dissent and make clear the quantifiable human health harms of waiting to implement these new standards. APHA and others asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to throw out or block the delay by EPA. One day before a response to this legal action was required, EPA reversed its decision to delay. A group of 16 state attorneys general also filed a separate lawsuit opposing the delay.

This week’s reversal of the EPA delay represents a major victory for public health, made more important given the context in which this decision happened. New leadership at EPA has announced efforts to roll back and dismantle important EPA rules protecting our air and water including the Clean Power Plan. President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have not made climate change and its effects on human health a priority and in fact Pruitt has stated that he does not believe carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels is a primary contributor to global warming, contrary to the scientific evidence. Our advocacy, and the collective voice of the public health workforce, will be a key force in defending and advancing safe and healthy environments in the coming years.

Although some in the administration downplay the threat of climate change and role of human activity, the scientific evidence is already irrefutable. A new study published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change found that if current trends continue, climate change will be responsible for another 60,000 air pollution-related deaths globally in the year 2030. With the added threat of climate change to our clean air, we need to take action now to protect all of us, especially our most vulnerable, from harmful air pollution. While stopping one delay for one clean air standard may seem an incremental victory, every chance to protect our communities from pollution now will pay dividends when the effects of climate change compound threats in the future.

Reversing the decision to delay the new standards strengthens protections from smog-producing ozone and helps improve our nation’s health.