Ozone Debate Over?

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Science  01 Nov 2002:
Vol. 298, Issue 5595, pp. 941c
DOI: 10.1126/science.298.5595.941c

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will soon lay to rest a 5-year debate over the potential health benefits of “bad” ozone. The agency is expected this month to issue a new air pollution rule that concludes that the benefits of reducing ground-level ozone outweigh possible skin cancer risks.

Ground-level ozone from cars and other pollution sources is known to cause severe respiratory ailments. But like ozone high in the stratosphere, it can also protect people against the ultraviolet radiation that causes skin cancer and cataracts. Indeed, in the late 1990s, two EPA reports estimated that tougher ground-level ozone standards could result in roughly 700 new U.S. skin cancer cases annually. Industry groups seized on such predictions in a court challenge to the tougher standards, and 3 years ago a federal judge ordered EPA to consider the science on ozone's possible health benefits before moving ahead.

Some environmentalists decried the decision. But Randall Lutter, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., says that ignoring the science was a “serious flaw” that smacked of political bias. The controversy apparently hasn't changed EPA's mind, however. Although agency officials can't discuss details, they say the science is still “too uncertain” to warrant delaying the tougher rules.

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