Report links community impacts of air quality

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With 1 million more residents expected to live in San Antonio by 2040, air quality is already a part of the SA 2020 Sustainability plan. (Photo/ Courtesy)

The City of San Antonio released an air quality health study to estimate the impact on health of Bexar County residents and the economic costs associated with changes in outdoor ozone.

The full study, “How Ozone Pollution Affects Public Health in San Antonio: A Study Commissioned by the City of San Antonio,” can be found at www.sanantonio.gov/ozoneandhealth.

The study found that increases in San Antonio’s ozone can lead to increases in ozone-related deaths. Specifically, the study estimates 19 respiratory deaths would result each year if San Antonio’s ozone were to return to 80 parts per billion or 2012 ozone level, which exceeded the EPA’s health-based air pollution standard of 70 parts per billion (ppb). On an economic level, the cost associated with these deaths is estimated to be $170 million.

The study, conducted by Ramboll Environ US Corporation, also estimates 24 deaths could be avoided annually if San Antonio’s ozone level improves below 68 parts per billion, which would meet the EPA’s 70 ppb air pollution standard. The avoided cost of these deaths is estimated to be $220 million.

“The science is unanimous: ozone pollution compromises the health of our more sensitive residents, including children, the elderly or people with existing respiratory issues,” said Dr. Colleen Bridger, Director of the City’s Metropolitan Health District. “Research has shown even healthy individuals are impacted by regular exposure to ozone pollution.”

The City of San Antonio commissioned the study in response to a still-pending “nonattainment” or “smog city” designation given by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. However, that designation would be listed as a marginal rating, the lowest level of federal regulation for ozone (smog), compared to a moderate or severe nonattainment rating. In October 2015, the EPA released a more stringent, health-based air pollution standard of 70 ppb of ground level ozone concentrations. Bexar County’s ozone level is currently at 73 ppb.

“Regardless of EPA’s decision on how San Antonio is designated, we need to keep in mind the primary focal point is the health of our residents,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “The City of San Antonio is and will continue to be proactive in taking the necessary measures to reduce ozone pollution.”

To raise awareness of air pollution, the City of San Antonio launched a public education campaign, “Breathe Today. SA Tomorrow,” to encourage residents and businesses to help keep the city’s air clean.

Ozone formation is favored on hot days. Higher temperatures speed the chemical reactions that produce ozone and enhance the rate of emissions from man-made sources such as evaporation of fuels.

“The climate of Texas is rapidly changing in ways that will increase the health impacts of ozone pollution in San Antonio,” said Douglas Melnick, the City’s Chief Sustainability Officer. “People can help reduce air pollution by carpooling whenever possible, combining errands to save gas, keeping vehicle tires properly inflated, and postponing mowing or filling up your gas tank until after 6 p.m.

For more tips on how residents and local businesses can help reduce air pollution, visit www.SanAntonio.gov/BreatheToday.

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