OAKLAND, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Environmental Health filed a formal notice today of their intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to ensure that parts of California and Colorado have effective plans to reduce dangerous smog pollution.
The affected areas are home to nearly 4 million people, including western Nevada County and the Coachella Valley in Riverside County in California, as well as the Metro Denver area and Front Range in Colorado.
The EPA determined that these areas have smog pollution at levels high enough to trigger health problems and ecological harm. The legal notice calls for the agency to make sure the areas have plans in place to clean up ground-level ozone emitted by fossil fuel-powered cars and power plants, as well as by the oil and fracked gas industry.
“Every day the EPA fails to enforce smog-reduction measures is a day of increased health risks for the children and families living in these areas,” said Robert Ukeiley, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These delays harm people’s health.”
People exposed to excess ground-level ozone, the principle pollutant in smog, can experience reduced lung function and increased respiratory problems like asthma attacks, causing visits to emergency rooms and even premature death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 13 people (25 million Americans) suffers from asthma. In 2013, children missed 13.8 million school days because of asthma — making it the top cause of missed school days in the United States.
An EPA study in 2015 estimated that Clean Air Act programs that reduce ozone pollution would prevent more than 880 premature deaths and 390,000 asthma attacks in children alone.
The EPA’s failure to ensure clean air in these areas is made worse by the fact that smog exposure could worsen the effects of COVID-19. The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that the highest risk groups for COVID-19 include people with asthma.
Studies have also shown that air pollution results in worse outcomes for people who have COVID-19 and similar diseases. This adds to a growing body of evidence that communities living in polluted areas are more likely to experience more severe versions of COVID-19.
“It is clear that smog pollution leads to significant adverse health effects,” said Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health. “It is the EPA’s duty to clean up these areas and make sure that more people don’t die from this pandemic.”
Beyond the human health concerns, ozone pollution also harms wildlife and plants. Oil and fracked gas extraction are key drivers of the quickly escalating wildlife extinction crisis.