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EPA to set new limits on levels of harmful ozone pollution in atmosphere

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For the first time since 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency will tighten a federal limit on the amount of harmful ground-level ozone in the air, The Wall Street Journal reported. Ground-level ozone is associated with shortness of breath and aggravated lung conditions among people who breathe it, especially children and the elderly. The new standards are the latest in a string of environmental and energy policy changes mandated by President Obama's Clean Air Act.

The regulations will cap levels of ozone at 70 parts per billion (ppb), which is only slightly more stringent than the current standard of 75 ppb. The EPA doesn't specify how states should comply with the new limit, but the regulations will likely force factories, refineries, and other ozone-producing businesses to update their pollution equipment.

The regulations will cap levels of ozone at 70 parts per billion

Ozone levels should be capped between 60 ppb and 70 ppb, according to a scientific advisory panel convened by the EPA last year. Even though the new regulations aren’t as tight as the panel recommended, the changes are likely to provoke backlash from the industrial sector. Complying with the new standards will cost an estimated $3.9 billion by the year 2050, according to WSJ. However, the EPA also estimated that the limits will save between $6.4 and $13 billion in public health costs from pollution-related illnesses.

Ground-level ozone, sometimes referred to as "bad" ozone, comes from industrial facilities, vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors, and some chemical solvents. These industries and technologies pump large amounts of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxides, and volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere, where the sunlight triggers the chemicals to react. Those reactions form a toxic ozone layer that extends up to 12 miles above sea level, which has shown to be harmful for both humans and the environment alike.

The Clean Air Act gives the EPA authority to better regulate air emissions in the United States. Earlier this month, the environmental agency used the law to implement steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. And this week, the EPA updated regulations on the amount of benzene, a cancer-causing compound, that can be emitted from oil refineries.