Washington, DC Ozone Classed as Severe

WASHINGTON, DC, January 27, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reclassified the Washington region to "severe" for ozone pollution.

Friday's action, which will trigger stronger pollution controls for industries and motor vehicles, was prompted by a federal court order in a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club.

Residents of Washington DC, as well as those of downwind cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore, suffer health threats due to smog pollution generated in the capital region. New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore are already designated as severe for smog pollution and are held to the stronger pollution control requirements that DC had avoided until today's announcement.

"This action will lead to cleaner, healthier air for people not only in the Washington region, but also in downwind cities," said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. "The stronger pollution controls required by this action are badly needed to reduce the large number of 'code red' days we suffer each summer."

Ten other areas have also been designated by the EPA as being in severe nonattainment of federal ozone standards, including Houston, Texas; Sacramento, California; Chicago, Illinois, New York, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Baltimore, Maryland. Los Angeles, California's smog problem is designated extreme by the EPA.

Areas in these categories, which now include metro Washington DC, must implement stronger pollution controls to bring their air quality in line with national standards. The court order also requires the EPA to decide by next April whether to formally disapprove the DC region's previous clean air plans, a move that would trigger legal requirements to redirect transportation spending from new roads to better mass transit and other projects that help to reduce pollution.

"More pollution controls are desperately needed in the Washington region," said Dr. Ronald Karpick, a Falls Church pulmonary physician. "Poor air quality means more children develop asthma and people with asthma have more attacks. This all leads to poorer quality of life, higher medical expenses, and even premature deaths."

Ozone is a lung irritant that damages lung tissue and reduces lung function, causing symptoms such as chest pain, nausea and pulmonary congestion. Ozone at the levels often experienced in the capital region is harmful to at risk individuals like the elderly, children and people with respiratory problems.

During a typical smoggy summer in metro DC, breathing difficulties send more than 2,400 people to the emergency room and cause 130,000 asthma attacks. Last summer, the Washington region suffered from the worst ozone pollution in more than a decade, with nine "code red" days, and another 19 "code orange" days, when children were warned to limit outdoor play.

To bring the DC metro area back into compliance with the law, the Sierra Club urges the EPA to adopt a comprehensive clean air plan that makes public transit affordable, convenient and dependable, and that promotes smart growth rather than suburban sprawl.

"Local officials should adopt smart growth policies, including clustering new development near transit and making our communities walkable and bikeable, to fight air pollution and help everyone breathe easier," said Sierra Club spokesperson Melanie Mayock.

Although welcoming the reclassification action, Earthjustice criticized another portion of today's EPA action that gives state and local governments more than a year to develop new clean air plans for the region. Baron also faulted EPA for allowing the region to delay annual cuts in ozone forming emissions.

"This is not a time for more foot dragging," said Baron. "These plans were due more than eight years ago."