Swath of U.S. hit by ‘double whammy’ of ozone, pollen

Source: Sean Reilly, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 12, 2017

About 40 percent of the United States’ population lives in areas plagued by a “double whammy” of unhealthy ozone levels and ragweed pollen, according to data released this afternoon by the Natural Resources Defense Council with a renewed warning that rising temperatures will make things worse on both fronts.

“Climate change is going to make it more difficult for people with respiratory illnesses to stay healthy,” Kim Knowlton, an NRDC senior scientist, said in a conference call with reporters this afternoon.

The data, displayed in the form of an interactive online map that lets users check the status of their communities, show that almost 127 million people have their homes in such areas, Knowlton said. The map also ranks 50 “asthma capitals,” a roster led by Memphis, Tenn., and including far-flung locales like Washington, D.C.; Wichita, Kan.; and Las Vegas.

Ozone, a lung irritant that is the prime ingredient in smog, can help trigger asthma attacks in children and aggravate breathing difficulties in emphysema patients. More people are reportedly allergic to ragweed pollen than to all other types of pollen combined, NRDC said in a series of questions and answers accompanying the map.

Because ozone is spawned by the reaction of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides in sunshine, it forms faster at higher temperatures, while rising atmospheric carbon levels lead to longer pollen seasons, Patrick Kinney, an urban health professor at Boston University, said on today’s call.

In releasing the 2015 report, the NRDC has urged EPA to tighten the ozone standard —- then at 75 parts per billion — and finalize the Clean Power Plan to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants (Greenwire, May 13, 2015).

Under the Obama administration, the agency proceeded with both initiatives that same year. Under President Trump, U.S. EPA is seeking to dismantle the Clean Power Plan and has already delayed implementation of the 70 ppb standard by a year. In a status report yesterday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, EPA attorneys said the agency is continuing to review its position on the standard itself.