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EPA is sued over smog in Los Angeles Basin

Environmental and public health groups say the EPA missed a deadline to, in effect, determine whether the ozone level is hazardous — thereby failing to force officials to crack down on pollution.

July 19, 2011|By Ashlie Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times
  • Traffic travels north on the 110 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles. According to the American Lung Assn., the L.A. region has the highest ozone level in the nation.
Traffic travels north on the 110 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles. According… (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles…)

Environmental and public health groups filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday, saying the agency has failed to force officials to crack down on smog in the Los Angeles Basin.

The suit contends the EPA missed a May deadline to, in effect, determine whether the ozone level in the region is hazardous to public health. Such a determination could trigger tougher limits on pollution from cars, trucks, ships and refineries.

The EPA did not comment on the lawsuit, which was filed by Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Desert Citizens Against Pollution, Communities for a Better Environment and the Natural Resources Defense Council, among other groups. A similar suit challenging whether San Joaquin Valley had met the ozone standard was filed Monday on behalf of the Sierra Club and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air.

The Los Angeles area has a long history of elevated ozone levels, and the American Lung Assn., in its annual State of the Air report, recently determined that the region has the highest ozone level in the nation.

"Angelenos continue to breathe smoggy air that makes people sick, forcing mothers to question whether to allow children to play outside on dirty air days," said Adrian Martinez, an attorney for the NRDC. "These are choices mothers should not have to make."

Under the federal Clean Air Act, Congress established a one-hour standard for ozone pollution, a principal contributor to smog, and the EPA was to certify no later than May whether air districts had met the standard.

If the EPA were to determine that the region does not meet the national standard, then the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the basin's regulatory agency, would have one year to submit a clean-up plan.

The one-hour standard measures the amount of ozone in the air, averaged over one hour. Monitoring stations across the region collect data for the air district, which includes Orange County and parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

In California, the Central Valley and the south coast district are the only two areas that have not met the national standard. The EPA's "silence" on the L.A. region supports the idea the agency "knows we haven't met the standard and it is choosing to not make the determination," said Angela Johnson-Meszaros, an environmental attorney involved in the suit.

South coast district spokesman Sam Atwood said the agency has adopted a plan to meet an eight-hour ozone standard, which he said is "much more stringent" than the one-hour standard. The standard, which measures average ozone levels over eight hours, offers more health protection and requires stricter pollution controls, he said.

Martinez, the NRDC attorney, said the region has taken measures to control ozone pollution, "but the question is whether it's happening fast enough."

Scientific studies have found that ozone inflames the respiratory system, causing asthma attacks, hospitalizations and premature deaths.

In Los Angeles, an estimated 1 million adults and 300,000 children have asthma, outranking 23 other congested cities, according to the American Lung Assn.'s 2011 State of the Air report.

ashlie.rodriguez@latimes.com

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