An article published in the Dallas Morning News this past Sunday raised the question of unhealthy air. The article was front and center on the front page and raised issues which will be facing many major metropolitan areas. The article began, “For three days next month, independent scientists will explore whether a child with asthma in urban North Texas might be in more danger from smog than previously thought,” wrote staff writer Randy Lee Loftis. “They’ll consider whether the summertime ozone inhaled by an outdoor worker in Houston, an Atlanta retiree or a healthy, active adult in scores of places might be harmful even at levels too low for the breather to notice. And they’ll ponder whether the nation should do something about it.”
Although I don’t think that Loftis’ article is untruthful, it tends to overlook the complexity of compliance. He mentions that the air (in terms of ozone) has improved while the population has increased. He then states, “The numbers, however, also show that North Texas’ summertime ozone is still unhealthy.” He does not mention that those numbers, which are the EPA’s benchmark for unhealthy air, have not been static. The EPA has lowered the benchmark several times over the years, and frequently it has come before all of the state’s rules have been fully implemented from the prior reduction.
Mr. Loftis writes of more and more studies showing ozone as a bad actor in regards to asthma, children, people with low intakes of vitamins C and E, outdoor workers, and “there is also increasing confidence that ozone is linked to death.” That will get your attention.
OK, I’m not going to argue against the health issues — but I find it frustrating that these types of articles don’t speak about the accomplishments which have occurred in a rapidly growing metropolitan area. This article speaks about the ozone standards proposed of 60 to 70 parts per billion and how it was rejected by the George W. Bush administration, but doesn’t mention that many industry experts, and professionals within the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) were concerned that there was no way to accurately measure ozone at those levels.
AND, last but not least, IF there is a hue and cry to do something, there’s one big problem. In the North Texas region the bulk of the ozone is created by automobiles – which are not covered by the Clean Air Act. Ask the folks at TCEQ if we can reach 60-70 ppb, which is what the article seems to see as a reasonable benchmark, and the answer will be no – unless we regulate automobile emissions. Last time that was tried (in the mid-90s) our state legislators, and the public, shouted it down. So, the question remains, “how do we get there?” because putting the burden on small business will not be a sustainable or equitable solution.