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EPA Resists Calls to Strengthen CO Standard

The EPA has declined to change the national air quality standards for carbon monoxide, but will require more focused monitoring in densely populated areas.

The agency yesterday said its review of the science showed that air quality standards set in 1971, at nine parts per million over eight hours and 35 ppm measured over one hour, protect public health and the environment. It said CO levels at monitors across the country are quite low and are well within the standards, showing that federal, state and local efforts to reduce CO pollution have been successful.

The EPA said that since 1980, levels of CO in the air have fallen by 80 percent, mostly because of motor vehicle emissions controls.

But, the agency said, “To ensure people are protected from unhealthy concentrations of CO and to develop better information about CO and its health impacts, EPA is revising the air monitoring requirements.” These changes will require a more focused monitoring network with CO monitors placed near roads in 52 urban areas that have populations of 1 million or more, the agency said.

Monitors in areas with populations of 2.5 million or more will be required to be operational by January 1, 2015, and monitors in other areas with populations of 1 million or more will have to be operational by January 1, 2017. These new monitoring sites will give the EPA important data about CO levels that may be affecting public health in neighborhoods located near busy roadways, the agency said.

The data will also be used to determine compliance with the current standards and to help inform future reviews of the standard, the EPA said.

The announcement was met by immediate protests from environmental groups, the Hill said.

“Millions of Americans are unprotected by the current air quality standards for carbon monoxide,” American Lung Association president Charles Connor said. “Children with asthma and adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease should be free to work or play outdoors without fear that air pollution will trigger asthma attacks or worsen their ability to breathe and send them to the hospital.”

“It’s disappointing,” Clean Air Watch president Frank O’Donnell said. “EPA does not deserve a passing grade for this one. EPA followed the wishes of the oil and car companies rather than the advice of the public health community.”

More information on the EPA’s decision is available here.

Picture credit: Map of carbon monoxide pollution over the U.S. and Canada, by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

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