AUSTIN, Texas (April 15, 2015) – Zephyr Principal and board-certified Toxicologist Lucy Fraiser released a summary on her impressions of the deliberations of a small group of science and policy experts who met in Austin, Texas on April 7-9, 2015 at an independent workshop sponsored by the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The discussion was in regard to the science and policy underlying the recently proposed ozone NAAQS (December 17, 2014) and the implications for public health.
Slides made available by panel members and additional pre-workshop materials are available at www.tera.org/Peer/ozone/index.html. Detailed proceedings of the workshop will be prepared by the facilitators, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment (TERA), and made public at a later date. This memo provides a high-level summary of the presentations and discussions from the three day workshop.
In previous months, most Washington Insiders seemed to be of the opinion that the final ozone NAAQS would have a “6” in front of it (i.e., 65 ppb, 67 ppb, etc.). However, something seems to have changed because many of the expert panelists at the workshop opined that they believe the EPA is unlikely to set the ozone standard below 70 ppb, with one expert suggesting that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy may have doubts about the underlying science (primarily the epidemiology studies) used to support the proposal.
Presenters from TCEQ (Dr. Sabine Lange, Toxicology Division) and Gradient (Dr. Julie Goodman and Dr. Sonja Sax) provided analyses of the available scientific evidence on human health effects from controlled human exposure studies and epidemiology studies. These presenters, as well as outside academic experts, generally expressed the view that the studies do not provide sufficient evidence for human health impacts at ozone levels below the current NAAQS (75 ppb).
Preliminary results of a TCEQ-sponsored analysis of the economic impact associated with attaining a lower possible NAAQS (i.e., 65 ppb) were presented, which indicated that the costs will be large, particularly in Texas. According to the analysis, decreases in worker income as a result of attaining a lower NAAQS in Texas is projected to be more than 3%, relatively larger increases in the cost of gasoline and electricity rates are expected in Texas, and the impacts are expected to dispropotionately affect lower income households. A discussion of the potential health trade-offs associated with meeting a lower ozone NAAQS followed and concluded with an illustrative example for ozone showing negative health impacts for attaining 60 ppb (overall loss of 900 lives) or 65 ppb (overall loss of 130 lives) and a slightly positive health impact for attaining 70 ppb (24 lives saved across entire US). A recurring theme at the conference was that even if EPA is prevented, by law, from evaluating costs versus benefits, they could compare health losses with health gains, and potentially conclude that lowering the ozone NAAQS is not worthwhile because the net result would be a loss of lives.
Concerns that the costs of reducing ozone would have indirect adverse health consequences resulting from worker income loss and the higher cost of energy, gasoline, etc. were raised by several of the policy experts. Several expressed the opinion that as the science becomes more uncertain at lower ppb levels, larger benefits should be required to justify the cost of reducing NAAQS, with one expert stating that it could be argued that it is “arbitrary and capricious” not to require more certainty in the science as the benefits become increasingly less certain. Several of the policy experts also suggested that the tide may be turning with regard to consideration of costs in setting the NAAQS. One panelist recommended that the Supreme Court decisions regarding challenges to EPA’s Mercury Air Toxics (MATs) Rule be closely watched, suggesting that there could be a re-injection of cost consideration into the process.
While a number of presenters and other participants emphasized the importance of early and active involvement in EPA’s rulemaking process, there seemed to be unanimous agreement amongst the policy experts that it is not too late to influence the process. Interested parties were encouraged to try to meet with the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB’s) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to discuss/explain their comments and convey in person the reasons for their concerns about the proposed rulemaking.
Lucy Fraiser, PhD, DABT
Dr. Lucy Fraiser is a Principal at Zephyr Environmental Corporation in Austin, Texas and a board-certified Toxicologist. She has over 24 years of experience in human health exposure and risk assessment. She specializes in air quality health evaluations, in which she determines if criteria pollutant emissions cause or contribute to a condition of air pollution and the likelihood that air toxics will adversely impact health or welfare.
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