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NEW EPA REPORT STRESSES NEED FOR CONTINUED AIR QUALITY IMPROVEMENT

Release Date: 12/22/98
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FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 22, 1998
NEW EPA REPORT STRESSES NEED FOR CONTINUED AIR QUALITY IMPROVEMENT

EPA today released its annual report on air quality trends showing that while air quality continues to improve, approximately 107 million Americans in 1997 lived in areas that did not meet the ambient air quality standards for at least one of six major pollutants: carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone (smog), particulate matter and sulfur dioxide.
“The nation has made significant progress in improving our air quality and protecting public health, but challenges still remain. Too many of our citizens still breathe unhealthy air,” said EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner. “Besides toughening the national health protection standards for smog and small particles in 1997, the Clinton Administration recently issued a rule reducing the regional transport of nitrogen oxides, ensuring that 138 million Americans living in the eastern United States will breathe cleaner air. This action will help prevent thousands of cases of smog-related illnesses like bronchitis and childhood asthma each year.”

The most current monitoring data show the following improvements in ambient air quality between 1988 and 1997:

-- Carbon monoxide concentrations decreased 38 percent.
-- Lead concentrations decreased 67 percent.
-- Nitrogen dioxide concentrations decreased 14 percent.
-- Ozone (smog) concentrations decreased 19 percent.
-- Particulate matter (dirt, dust, soot) concentrations decreased 26 percent.
-- Sulfur dioxide concentrations decreased 39 percent.

The most current monitoring data show the following improvements in ambient air quality between 1996 and 1997:

-- Carbon monoxide concentrations decreased seven percent.
-- Lead concentrations remained unchanged.
-- Nitrogen dioxide concentrations remained unchanged.
-- Ozone (smog) concentrations remained unchanged.
-- Particulate matter (dirt, dust, soot) concentrations decreased one percent.
-- Sulfur dioxide concentrations decreased four percent.

EPA and the states recently established a new monitoring network in 22 of the smoggiest cities in the country. These monitors measure concentrations of many specific compounds that contribute to ozone formation. Many of these compounds are also toxic pollutants, which are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects. The monitoring data show that, over the last three years, average concentrations of eight air toxics have decreased. There has been a significant reduction in benzene levels over this period. Benzene, a major industrial chemical, is classified by EPA as a known human carcinogen, because of its link to adult leukemia. Early analyses indicate these reductions are likely a result of reduced emissions of volatile organic compounds from vehicles using reformulated gasoline.

At the same time that air pollution has been decreasing significantly between 1970 and 1997, gross domestic product increased 114 percent, U.S. population increased 31 percent, and vehicle miles traveled increased 127 percent.

To address the problem of long-range regional transport of ozone from state to state , EPA issued a rule in September 1998 that will significantly reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in 22 eastern states and the District of Columbia (NOx emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes contribute to the formation of ozone, as well as to the creation of nitrogen dioxide and acid rain).

In July 1997, EPA revised the ozone and particulate matter standards to better protect public health. Today’s report is the first to include trends related to the revised ozone and PM-10 standards(coarse particles). As monitoring data become available, future reports will include trends related to the new PM 2.5 standard(fine particles).

Paper copies of the report are available from the Emissions, Monitoring, and Analysis Division (MD-14), Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, N.C. 27711; phone 919-541-5558. Electronic copies of the report are computer-accessible immediately through EPA's web site on the Internet at: http://www.epa.gov/oar/aqtrnd97/. For further technical information on the report, phone David Mintz of EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards at 919-541-5224.


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