STATEMENT OF DR. ROBERT D. BULLARD ON EPA OZONE STANDARD
Good morning. My name is Dr. Robert D. Bullard and I direct the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. I am here today to present testimony as a researcher and scholar who has studied and written about environmental health and vulnerable populations for the past three decades. I am also here representing the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN), a national preventive health and environmental/economic justice network with affiliates in 33 states and the District of Columbia.
First, I would to thank the U.S. EPA for holding this important hearing on ozone standards. This hearing is about public health. It’s about life and death and saving lives. It is not about compromise, economic tradeoffs, or a balancing act that subjects millions of Americans to unnecessary environmental health threats—in this case ground level ozone.
We now know that air pollution, including ground level ozone, claims 70,000 lives a year, nearly twice the number killed in traffic accidents. More than half of U.S. population lives in counties with unsafe air. Ground-level ozone affects more than 158 million Americans in ten of the eleven most populous states (California, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas).
Public health costs due to air pollution account for over three-quarters of the total pollution-related public health costs and could be as high as $182 billion annually. An estimated 50,000 to 120,000 premature deaths are associated with exposure to air pollutants. People with asthma experience more than 100 million days of restrictive activity annually, costing $4 billion a year.
Under the Clean Air Act, air quality standards must be set at levels that protect public health, including that of vulnerable and sensitive populations. The current ozone standard is .080. EPA is proposing tightening the standards between .070 and .075 parts per million. Clearly, this is inadequate. EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) unanimously recommended setting a new tougher standard in the range of .060 to .070 per million. EPA should come clean and set the ozone standards at the lowest level to protect public health. The agency should not cave in to industry pressure to keep the status quo.
Studies show ozone has adverse lung function effects and increases cardiovascular and respiratory deaths even at 0.06 ppm. Vulnerable populations such as children are at special risk from ozone. One of every four American child lives in areas that regularly exceed the U.S. EPA’s ozone standards. Over 27 million children under age 13 live in areas with ozone levels above the EPA standard. And half the pediatric asthma population, two million children, live in these areas. More than 61.3 percent of African American children, 69.2 percent of Hispanic children and 67.7 percent of Asian-American children live in areas that exceed the 0.080 ppm ozone standard, while 50.8 percent of white children live in such areas.
High ozone levels cause more than 50,000 emergency room visits each year and result in 15,000 hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses. Ozone pollution is responsible for 10 percent to 20 percent, and nearly 50 percent on bad days, of all hospital admissions for respiratory conditions. Moreover, ground level ozone sends an estimated 53,000 persons to the hospital, 159,000 to the emergency room and triggers 6,200,000 asthma attacks each summer in the eastern half of the United States.
Asthma attacks send African Americans to the emergency room at three times the rate (174.3 visits per 10,000 population) of whites (59.4 visits per 10,000 population). African Americans are hospitalized for asthma at more than three times the rate of whites (35.6 admissions per 10,000 population vs. 10.6 admissions per 10,000 population). In 2004, Asthma prevalence rate among African Americans was 36 percent higher than that for whites.
Transportation-related sources account for a major share of the primary smog-forming pollutants. Nearly half (48.6 percent) of the sprawled out Atlanta region's air pollution is from cars and heavy-duty vehicles, which each year spew over 1.5 million tons of pollutants. More cars translate into more traffic gridlock, more air pollution and unfortunately more illnesses—with public health costs estimated to be as high as $637 million. In 2007 (between May 1 and September 4), the metro Atlanta area experienced forty-five smog alerts—32 "orange" days and 13 "red" days for ozone, particulate matter, or both.
While car owners may occasionally choose not to drive, those without cars really do not have a choice of not breathing the air. Enforcing stronger federal ozone standards and more alternatives to automobile travel—including regional public transit—will go a long way in improving the health and livability of the entire Atlanta region. It’s a matter of growing smarter and growing healthier.