Health experts ask EPA to reduce ozone pollution in Detroit

Health experts ask EPA to reduce ozone pollution in Detroit

A coalition of nurses, doctors and health experts in Michigan filed an amicus brief in a federal lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to weaken ozone pollution standards in Detroit.

Michigan Clinicians for Climate Action (MiCCA) and Air Michigan Health (MAMH) are asking the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the EPA’s decision to designate Detroit as “at” federal ozone standards. The EPA’s decision is inconsistent with the Clean Air Act because Detroit’s air quality is worse than federal standards allow. In fact, Detroit residents face numerous health disparities due to living close to highways and industrial pollution sources. The decision weakens the pollution control standards that contributed to Detroit’s ozone problems.

“Health professionals have seen firsthand how poor air quality caused by historical environmental racism can lead to severe and long-term suffering,” says Kindra Weid, RN, MPH, MAMH Alliance Coordinator. “This EPA ruling fails to protect public health. We ask the court to overturn the EPA’s decision to prevent more sick people, more hospital visits and more avoidable deaths in Detroit.”

Ground-level ozone, also known as smog, is a harmful air pollutant produced when emissions from cars, power plants and industrial facilities react in sunlight. Because ozone pollution is extremely harmful to human health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ozone at 0.070 parts per million. When air quality in an area exceeds this standard, people living there are at higher risk of developing lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. These health problems increase absenteeism, reduce time outside the home, and cause people to miss work and other activities.

The Detroit area is considered the “asthma capital” of the United States, with historically redlined communities overwhelmed by air pollution. These residents are exposed to different sources and forms of pollution through multiple channels, leading to cumulative effects that harm their health. However, in January 2023, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) asked EPA to change conditions in the Detroit area to meet and weaken ozone control standards.

To determine compliance with the ozone NAAQS, EGLE uses air quality data generated by monitors distributed throughout the region to calculate average ozone concentrations. To show the EPA that Detroit meets ozone standards, EGLE must exclude air quality data generated by monitors located in predominantly black neighborhoods near major industrial facilities. EGLE submitted a “Special Event Demonstration” to the EPA designed to show that wildfires in Canada, rather than Detroit’s numerous polluting industries and highways, contributed to unusually high ozone pollution in the community during the summer of 2022. Excluding this data allows EGLE to show that Detroit has met the ozone standard, even though Detroit residents’ real-life exposures have been consistently above the 0.070 ppm standard.

“It is deeply disturbing and disappointing that while Detroit’s air quality continues to deteriorate, Michigan regulators are letting polluters off the hook, especially Black and low-income communities along industrial site fence lines.” MiCCA President Elizabeth (Lisa) Del Buono, MD. “In 2022, residents can’t push a button and magically eliminate the health hazards of high ozone. Detroiters deserve better.”

“EPA’s job is to check whether Detroit’s air quality has actually improved and is safe to breathe before relaxing pollution controls.” John Petoskey, associate attorney for Earthjustice, said, represents the healthy group. “When EPA ignores science and prefers to act as a rubber stamp, it’s ordinary people who suffer the consequences.”

In September 2023, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would postpone the establishment of new ozone pollution standards until after the 2024 election. At the same time, too many counties across the U.S. map are facing unsafe levels of air pollution.

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Michigan Clinicians for Climate Action (MiCCA) is a coalition of more than 400 Michigan health professionals dedicated to mitigating and preventing the health impacts of climate change by educating, empowering and engaging health professionals, the public and policymakers adverse effects.

MI Air MI Health (MAMH) was founded in April 2012 by representatives from 30 Michigan health organizations to empower health groups to advocate at the local, state and federal levels for policies that improve outdoor air quality and curb harmful health effects. Have a stronger voice on climate change and improve the health of Michigan’s children and families.

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