Bad air days

To the editor:

Glynis Hart’s excellent story about smog and climate change (“Smog hits Whiteface: Adirondack Council sues EPA”) left two incorrect impressions with your readers. Both were entirely my fault.

First: Not all of the smokestack pollution that causes ozone in the Adirondacks is coming from the 36 coal-fired power plants in the Midwest, whose excess pollution caused the Adirondack Council to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Second: My use of the phrase “out of compliance” to describe ozone pollution levels at Whiteface Mountain on May 2 was officially premature. It may someday be determined to be correct. Under the primary National Ambient Air Quality Standard, the EPA must first apply a complicated formula that compares it to other days when pollution was elevated to determine whether the rules were broken on that day.

The formulas are needed because damage to human health comes from the combination of both the noxiousness of the pollution dosage and the length of exposure. Short exposures to high pollution levels don’t count in the EPA’s book. Only when the exposure levels exceed the health standard for more than eight hours does the EPA’s enforcement team begin to take note. At first, that’s all they do.

In early May, ozone levels here were clearly higher than the public health standard that EPA is supposed to enforce. Worse, public health advocates insist that the current EPA standard is inadequate to protect children or adults who are already suffering from lung diseases or other common ailments.

The Adirondack Council is urging the EPA to adopt a stricter, secondary standard (NAAQS), as Congress instructed in the Clean Air Act. Such a standard would provide better public health protection. It would also establish public welfare protection, including “protection against decreased visibility and damage to animals, crops, vegetation, and buildings.” To date, the EPA has said it lacks the information needed to set such a standard. We disagree. It lacks the will to enforce and improve the rules.


John Sheehan

Director of communications

Adirondack Council