In my previous post, we discussed the role of an assessment EPA had done estimating how many children from 12 metropolitan areas would be exposed to different levels of ozone. We’ll close this discussion of why the EPA chose the primary standard it did with these final comments from Jackson, taken from the document National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Ozone, Final Preamble, 2011. In this comment, she compares the exposure assessment we were discussing in the previous post to the assessment of risk of how many people are likely to experience health problems from ozone at different maximum levels. She still comes to the conclusion that a standard of .070 ppm is warranted but not lower than that (p. 182):
In considering the estimates provided by the risk assessment, the Administrator notes that significant reductions in health risks for lung function, respiratory symptoms, hospital admissions and mortality have been estimated to occur across the standard levels analyzed, including 0.084 ppm, the level of the 1997 standard, 0.080, 0.074, 0.070, and 0.064 ppm. In looking across these alternative standards, as discussed above in section II.A.2, the patterns in risk reductions are similar to the patterns observed in the exposure assessment for exposures at and above the health benchmark levels. In considering these results, the Administrator recognizes there is increasing uncertainty about the various concentration-response relationships used in the risk assessment at lower O3 concentrations, such that as estimated risk reductions increase for lower alternative standard levels so too do the uncertainties in those estimates. In light of this and other uncertainties in the assessment, the Administrator concludes that the risk assessment reinforces the exposure assessment in supporting a standard level no higher than 0.070 ppm, but it does not warrant selecting a lower standard level.
CASAC asserted that the ozone standard should be set between .060 and .070 ppm, but it preferred that the standard be set closer to 0.060. Jackson agreed with CASAC with its assertion but not with its preference, and she explains why (p. 183):
With regard to selecting a standard level from within that range, the Administrator observes that CASAC recognized that she must make a public health policy judgment to select a specific standard that in her judgment protects public health with an adequate margin of safety. The Administrator notes that CASAC found the relative strength of the evidence to be weaker at lower concentrations, and that their recommended range of 0.060 to 0.070 ppm allowed her to judge the appropriate weight to place on any uncertainties and limitations in the science in selecting a standard level within that range (Samet, 2011, p.9). The Administrator further notes that CASAC expressed the view that selecting a level below the current standard, closer to 0.060 ppm, would be “prudent,” in spite of the uncertainties (Samet, 2011, p.7-8), and that selecting a standard level at the upper end of their recommended range would provide “little” margin of safety (Samet, 2011, p.2).
In reaching her public health policy judgment, after carefully considering the available evidence and assessments, the associated uncertainties and limitations, and the advice and views of CASAC, the Administrator judges that a standard set at 0.070 ppm appropriately balances the uncertainties in the assessments and evidence with the requirement to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety for susceptible populations, especially children and people with lung disease. In so doing, she also concludes that a standard set at a lower level would be more than is necessary to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety for these susceptible populations. This judgment by the Administrator appropriately considers the requirement for a standard that is neither more nor less stringent than necessary for this purpose and recognizes that the CAA [Clean Air Act — MHK] does not require that primary standards be set at a zero-risk level, but rather at a level that reduces risk sufficiently so as to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety. Further, this judgment is consistent with and supported by the advice and unanimous recommendation of CASAC to set a standard within a range that included but was no higher than 0.070 ppm.
So there you have it. The proposed standard of 0.070 ppm was not based on a mathematical equation or a set of rigid criteria. It was a judgement call, something with which reasonable people can disagree.
So far, we’ve been discussing the rationale of EPA’s primary ozone standard, meant to safeguard the pubiic health. Next, we’ll discuss the secondary standard, formulated to help preserve property and other economic interests.