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EPA to Update Air Quality Standards

The EPA has announced it will revise standards for nitrogen oxides, or NO2, by early 2010.  NO2 is a harmful-to-your-health gaseous emission from burning fossil fuels, and the major sources are vehicles and coal-fired power plants.  creative_commons_louisville_roadtrip

The EPA periodically updates its emission standards based on the latest science.  What’s of interest about this periodic review is the agency’s decision to add NO2 monitoring sites along roadways.  New evidence shows that NO2 can be more dangerous in short, intense exposures, such as what might be found along a major highway.  From the EPA’s announcement in the Federal Register:

“Because monitors in the current network are not sited to measure peak roadway-associated NO2 concentrations, individuals who spend time on and/or near major roadways could experience NO2 concentrations that are considerably higher than indicated by monitors in the current area-wide NO2 monitoring network [of about 400 nationwide].”

Forty to 80% higher, it projects.  So folks who spend time on or near highways could be breathing in much more NO2 than we know. And we know more now, the EPA says, about why that’s not so good: recent scientific evidence has established pretty clear links between NO2 and respiratory ailments and an increase in emergency room visits.

The highway monitors may not yet be in place. But in separate-though-related news, you can get ready to track this and other public health concerns from your nearest computer.  The Centers for Disease Control just launched its online Public Health Tracking Network.  It’s easy to access and understand than other means of finding this data, I think. Check for incidences of cancer in your area, air quality indicators, information on birth defects and the environment, and more.

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Local News

New Studies Show Pollutant Can Harm Lungs

Exposure to a key pollutant from burning fossil fuels – including emissions from coal-fired power plants and motor vehicles – has been linked more precisely to lung problems. The Environmental Protection Agency has reviewed the latest studies of the health impacts of short-term exposure to nitrogen oxides, or NO2. Those impacts can include respiratory trouble and trips to the emergency room. Children and asthmatics are particularly vulnerable.

However, the date by which the EPA must decide whether to regulate the pollutant more heavily or keep the current standard is not the agency’s choice. EPA spokeswoman Ila Cote says lawsuits have forced the agency to get its so-called “criteria pollutant” reviews on track.

“There are six pollutants that are considered the criteria pollutants. Five are under court-ordered schedules, one is not, and it’s also on schedule,” Cote says.

She says the EPA has not been able to maintain its regular review schedule because “…there’s been a lot of competing priorities.”

NO2 is of particular concern in the Ohio River Valley region, where most of the energy supply comes from coal-fired power plants.

(On the Web: Read the EPA’s latest science assessment for NO2 here.)