LOS ANGELES (AP) — Asthma patients, doctors and activists urged U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials on Thursday to go further in tightening smog standards to protect children and others from ailments caused by dirty air.
The federal agency held its first public hearings in Los Angeles and Philadelphia on plans to reduce the permissible amount of the noxious gas that is formed when car exhaust, industrial emissions and gasoline vapors are cooked by heat and sunlight.
About 100 people from across California addressed an EPA panel in a Los Angeles hotel conference room, many pressing for tougher limits on ground-level ozone, the primary component in smog.
They argued that such a move would prevent asthma, bronchitis and other lung disease. Among other things, that would benefit the nation's economy by producing a healthy work force, they said.
''We as humans need three things to survive: food to eat, water to drink and clean air to breathe,'' said Raji Brar, a city councilwoman in the central valley community of Arvin, which the EPA says has the most polluted air in America.
''Our survivability is being compromised and we deserve better,'' she said.
Business and industry groups are lobbying to keep the current limit, arguing that lowering it is unnecessary and would hurt manufacturers as they face global competition and higher energy prices.
''Any recommendation to revise the current ozone standard will provide uncertain benefits while burdening the nation's economy,'' Bryan Brendle, director of energy and resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, told an EPA panel in a Philadelphia hotel ballroom.
The EPA said in June it would consider tighter standards for smog, which is measured by calculating the concentration of ozone molecules in the atmosphere over an eight-hour period. The current standard is .084 parts per million.
The EPA is proposing a reduction to between .070 and .075 parts per million. The agency's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee has suggested setting the limit even lower, between .060 and .070 parts per million.
The EPA is also soliciting comments on alternate standards, including keeping the current amount or going down to .060 parts per million.
Environmentalists want the EPA to set the level at .060 parts per million, contending that tougher limits are
needed to force heavily polluted cities to address the problem.
The most severe smog problems are seen in California, Texas, the Atlanta area, Philadelphia and parts of the mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Upper Midwest.
In Philadelphia, Natalie McCloskey, of Delran, N.J., plopped two clear bags filled with medication on a table as she recounted the summertime stress of caring for her asthmatic children.
''Most families look forward to summer with a great sense of anticipation. Not our family,'' said the 33-year-old mother and American Lung Association volunteer. ''Too many times we had to miss out on events because of an ozone alert. We need your help in what we have no control over, but you do: the air we breathe.''
Brar said children are forced to stay indoors on days when the smog level in Arvin exceeds the amount considered acceptable by the EPA.
''Having our children stay indoors when they should be out playing is simply unjust,'' she said.
Three other hearings will be held Sept. 5 in Chicago, Houston and Atlanta.
The EPA plans to settle on a final standard by March 12.