No Floridian likes to breathe dirty, unhealthy air, but one type of air pollution – ozone – is especially dangerous to our children, the elderly, those with diseases like asthma and heart conditions. In conjunction with Asthma Awareness Month, the Center for Effective Government has released a new report showing how tougher ozone pollution standards and more public resources would create cleaner air for more than 14 million Floridians.
The report, Gasping for Support: Implementation of Tougher Air Quality Standards Will Require New Funds for State Agencies, summarizes the litany of health problems caused by current “acceptable” levels of air pollution, including asthma attacks, heart attacks, cancer and early death, and focuses on ozone, one of the most widespread and dangerous air pollutants.
Ozone pollution is particularly hard on children since their lungs are still forming, and it can cause asthma attacks, heart attacks and even early death. The elderly, of which Florida has a high population, children, low-income people and communities of color are at particular risk from ozone. For all these reasons, it is critical that the current, inadequate ozone pollution standard be strengthened.
The current ozone standard is under review by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But the EPA’s proposed level, between 65 and 70 parts per billion, doesn’t go far enough: we need an ozone standard of 60 ppb to effectively protect our health.
Strengthening the current ozone standard by just 20 percent to 60 ppb could prevent an estimated 5,800 premature deaths, 2,100 hospital admissions for breathing problems, 6,600 asthma-related emergency room visits and 1.7 million asthma attacks in kids nationally each year. Avoiding these health problems would greatly improve the lives of millions of people and save $12 billion to $20 billion in healthcare costs by 2025.
If the agency adopted this standard, 106 million more Americans would breathe cleaner air. In Florida alone, this would include more than 3 million children, nearly 2.5 million elderly, and about 2.4 million people living in poverty. The health of an astonishing 14.3 million more Floridians would be protected at the 60 ppb standard compared to the current 75 ppb standard.
Florida’s most vulnerable residents have the most to gain from stronger ozone pollution standards. Increasing the ozone standard to 60 ppb would protect an estimated 252,377 more children in Florida with asthma; 84,205 more black children with asthma; nearly a million more adults with asthma; more than 800,000 people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and more than 700,000 Floridians with heart disease.
Despite the clear need for a stronger ozone standard, Congress has slashed the resources states need to implement air quality rules. Under the Clean Air Act, many air quality standards are set at the federal level, but states are primarily responsible for implementing and enforcing them. Over the past 10 years, federal grants to state clean air programs have dropped in value by 21 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars. Congress is poised to reduce EPA’s budget yet again, when they should be increasing it.
It’s important that Floridians weigh in on this issue and urge the EPA and Congress to make sure we have the strong standards and financial resources we need to clean up our air. This is especially important because powerful polluters are pushing hard to derail the stronger ozone standard, just like they did back in 2011. We can’t let them win. It’s time to act now so we can all breathe easier.
Mark Ferrulo is executive director of Progress Florida.