In my last post, we quoted the document National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone, Final Preamble, 2011, where the current Administrator of the EPA, Lisa Jackson (who recently announced she is leaving the agency) discusses why she decided to lower the maximimum ozone concentration limit from 0.075 ppm to between 0.060 and 0.070 ppm. Now she will explain to us how she chose the exact limit. Note that she tacitly acknowledges that she can’t demand more than is necessary. Choosing the optimal number won’t be easy, because the evidence doesn’t point to any such number (p. 174):
The Administrator next considered what standard level within the proposed range of 0.060 to 0.070 ppm would be requisite to protect public health, including the health of susceptible populations, with an adequate margin of safety — i.e., a level that is sufficient but not more than necessary to achieve that result. She recognizes that neither the health evidence nor the human exposure and health risk assessments provide any “bright line” for selecting a specific level within the proposed range.
She explains the difficulties: no laboratory studies in the range of .060 to .070 ppm, studies of people in the street indicate no particular threshold within this range, difficulty in extrapolating what we know about healthy people to people with asthma, and risk assessments made at only two levels: 0.070 ppm and 0.064 ppm. In short, no easy method of determining the best limit. Instead, she will need to base her judgement on many factors taken together (Note: The paragraph sign in brackets [¶] indicates a paragraph break that I introduced that isn’t in the original document. P. 174):
[¶]No controlled human exposure studies were conducted at intermediate levels between 0.070 and 0.060 ppm. Associations reported in epidemiological studies generally ranged from well above to well below this range, with no suggestion of a possible threshold within this range. While there is substantial evidence that asthmatics have greater responses than healthy, non-asthmatic people, there is uncertainty about the magnitude of the differences in their responses within this range. Moreover, within this range, exposure and health risk assessments estimated the exposures of concern and health risks only for standard levels of 0.070 and 0.064 ppm. Thus, there is a combination of scientific evidence and other information that the Administrator needs to consider as a whole in making the public health policy judgment to select a standard level from within the proposed range.
The Administrator declares the limit she selected (p. 175):
After weighing the strengths and the inherent uncertainties and limitations in the evidence and assessments, and taking into account the range of views and judgments expressed by the CASAC Panel, including CASAC’s most recent advice, and in the public comments, as discussed above, the Administrator finds the evidence and other information on the public health impacts from exposure to O3 warrant an 8-hour primary standard set at 0.070 ppm [emphasis mine — MHK]…
Jackson notes that the surest source of evidence, laboratory studies, offer scant evidence below the 0.080 ppm level other than the studies of Adams. In the interest of brevity I’m omitting that section. She goes on to discuss epidemiological studies, studies of people in the street. While they may not be as robust as laboratory studies, the large number of studies do offer enough evidence of a link between levels of ozone and bad health outcomes to make a judgement (p. 177):
With regard to epidemiological studies, the Administrator observes that statistically significant associations between ambient O3 levels and a wide array of respiratory symptoms and other morbidity outcomes, including school absences, emergency department visits, and hospital admissions, have been reported in a large number of studies. These associations occur across distributions of ambient O3 concentrations that generally extend from above to well below the proposed range, although the Administrator recognizes that there are questions of biological plausibility in attributing the observed effects to O3 alone at the lower end of the concentration ranges extending down to background levels.
However, Jackson does recognize that epidemiological studies have their drawbacks, as she discusses here. Samet assures her that although these studies are less reliable at concentrations that approach the natural ambient level, they are not less reliable at the 0.060 to 0.070 ppm range (p. 177):
[¶] The Administrator also recognizes the uncertainty inherent in translating information from such studies into the basis for selecting a specific level from within the proposed range. The Administrator notes that in its most recent advice, CASAC concluded that epidemiological studies are inherently more uncertain as ambient O3 concentrations decrease and effect estimates become smaller, although CASAC’s confidence in attributing reported effects on health outcomes to O3 did not change over the range of 0.060 to 0.070 ppm (Samet, 2011. p.10-11).
Now Jackson must make a value judgement. At what level concentration is the epidemiological evidence pointing to? (p. 178)
[¶]In weighing this evidence and the related uncertainties, the Administrator concludes that while the epidemiological evidence provides support for a standard set no higher than 0.070 ppm, it does not warrant selecting a lower standard level within the proposed range.
But what about people with respiratory problems? Perhaps they need a standard below 0.070 ppm. but she concludes that there is not enough information to choose a lower limit for that reason (p. 178).
The Administrator has also considered the evidence from controlled human exposure and epidemiological studies that children and adults with asthma and other lung diseases are likely to experience larger and more serious responses to O3 exposures than healthy, non-asthmatic people. … the Administrator recognizes that controlled human exposure studies conducted using healthy subjects likely underestimate effects in this susceptible population. The Administrator also recognizes, however, that there is uncertainty about the magnitude of any such differences in responses. Thus, the Administrator concludes that while this evidence supports taking into consideration the extent to which a standard would limit exposures of susceptible populations to concentrations at and above the 0.070 and 0.060 ppm benchmark levels, it does not further inform the translation of the available evidence of O3– related effects in healthy subjects into the basis for selecting any specific standard level from within the proposed range.
Perhaps some quantifiable data can shed some light on an appropriate level that will assist people with respiratory problems. That is the subject of my next post.