We've already been told that ground-level ozone is a health hazard in Chicago. In April, the American Lung Association reported that high ozone levels here mean more than 1.1 million children 13 years of age or younger are at risk of developing asthma and other breathing disorders.
Now, in a new study, the Union of Concerned Scientists concludes ozone-related health problems are likely to get a lot worse.
Liz Martin Perera, senior Washington representative for the UCS' Climate & Energy Program and co-author of the report, was in Chicago recently to talk about the link between ozone and climate change. Her conclusion: We can expect 144,000 more cases of asthma and other respiratory ailments annually here by 2020 if nothing is done because higher temperatures lead to greater formation of ground-level ozone.
Already, "mothers with kids with asthma and anyone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ... don't set foot outside if there is an ... air-quality alert day," Perera said.
But as average temperatures get warmer, the number of air-quality alert days will just go up if nothing is done to reduce air pollution, she said.
Ozone, the primary ingredient of smog, is triggered primarily by a mix of heat, sunlight and "precursor emissions" from power plants and cars and trucks. Among the societal costs are children kept home from school, seniors and infants hospitalized and athletes not allowed to practice outdoors.
Liz Martin Perera
"You just can't quantify all the impacts: a mother with a child who has asthma and what she needs to go through as she prepares for an ozone alert day. How many inhalers she needs to have on hand ... the lost days of work for both mothers and fathers who stay home. ...
"Normal people who are completely healthy are also affected by ozone pollution, and [can experience] chronic impact on their health over the long term," she added.
The Environmental Protection Agency is re-evaluating the ozone standard, which is now a limit of 75 parts per billion for an eight-hour period, averaged over three years. An independent scientific panel has recommended lowering that to 60 ppb or 70 ppb, which the EPA is releasing to the Office of Management and Budget for review, Perera said. A final rule is expected by the end of the month, she said.
But the outlook isn't entirely bleak, Perera said. Another UCS report due out this month concludes that an effort to reduce precursor emissions would lead to consumer savings and job growth in Illinois, she said.
"Chicago already had 27 [ozone-alert says] last year and that's going to keep going up," she said. "It is high time we recognize it as a problem."
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