WASHINGTON – A study released Thursday by the American Lung Association found that the 4.5 million residents of Baltimore, the District of Columbia and 10 of Maryland’s 23 counties are exposed to harmful ozone levels at least one day each year.
About 160 million Americans – 60 percent of all U.S. citizens – live in areas that experience harmful levels of ozone, the association announced.
Armed with the findings, the association urged the Environmental Protection Agency to tighten its standards for harmful ozone levels – from 0.12 to 0.07 parts per million. It cited “overwhelming scientific evidence,” including from the EPA, to support its demand.
States or counties where the standard is exceeded three times in three years must adopt measures to reduce ozone levels.
The EPA is reviewing its standards and expects to come up with a decision next summer, said policy analyst Steve Cochran.
Cochran said the review was forced by the lung association, a volunteer organization of people with lung problems. It filed a lawsuit in 1991 because the EPA had not conducted a review within a required five-year period.
“The previous administration did not begin the review in the proper time frame,” Cochran said.
Ozone, a component of smog, develops when traffic exhausts or industry pollutants react with sunlight. Prolonged exposure can result in reduced lung function, lung tissue inflammation and lower resistance to infections, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit association said.
Children and athletes are at particular risk because they are more active and breathe harder. Senior citizens and people with lung problems are also in special danger since their lung functions have already deteriorated.
Ozone levels change frequently because the development of the gas requires the presence of certain pollutants, as well as sunlight.
In Maryland, the lung association measured the highest concentration of ozone in Harford County. It measured a level of 0.12 parts per million during the 1991 – ’93 survey.
Other counties with “at-risk populations” are Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Kent, Montgomery and Prince George’s, as well as Baltimore City and the District of Columbia, the association reported.
Harford County is particularly vulnerable because predominant weather patterns carry the pollutants in a northeast direction, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of the Environment said.
“The pollutants come from Richmond, then increase over Washington and of course over Baltimore, blowing right into Harford County,” said Caren Coyle.
She said the EPA has pinpointed severe ozone problems in the Baltimore-metropolitan area and the District of Columbia. The problem locations must comply with EPA requirements to decrease the output of ozone-causing emissions.
Such requirements include vehicle emission inspection programs, vapor recovery nozzles for gas stations and cleaner gasolines, she said.
Harford is one of the counties participating in the programs. But George Harrison, the county’s public information officer, said there’s not much the county can do about pollution since most of it is coming from other parts of the region. “We are the victim of our neighbors,” he said. “We have major highways going through our county, but we have very little industry that causes the emissions. Our newer industries are all controlled and have very little emissions.” – 30 –