27 July 2011

Should TV Weathercasters Lie About Ozone??

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Last year the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Comm. unanimously recommended the EPA set the level for safe ozone exposure at between 60-70 parts per billion. The current level set under the Bush administration is 75 parts per billion. When the ozone level is above this (for a specified period) the air pollution index goes above 100 and the air is considered unhealthy on the EPA Air Quality Index chart. You have likely seen this chart in a newspaper or on a TV weather segment.

Is this index based on the best available science or skewed politically.

Reporter Lynn People wrote a story on Huffington Post tonight that indicates the EPA ( in spite of the recommendation from scientists) is delaying lowering the standard, and (not surprisingly) political considerations are likely playing a role. This has been the case frequently with the setting of the ozone standard, and it comes in spite of some studies now showing significant effects on healthy adults at levels of 50 ppb. Whether or not the standard should be changed is both a political and scientific question, but the question I now put forth is this:

What should the on air meteorologist report??

If we use the EPA index as is, then we are giving numbers that indicate 71 parts per billion of ozone is moderate but not unhealthy air quality. This is clearly not supported by the science, and remember the science advisory panel was unanimous!

This issue has been simmering for a while, and I’ve been dealing with it myself for over a year now. I always mention that the best science says the air is unhealthy when the local measurement here in Huntsville gets to 70 ppb. I worry this may confuse people, but the EPA can easily avoid it by listening to its scientific panels when setting the air quality index. Perhaps it is time for the CASA panel to put together their own index based on science and not politics.