Hence it's a good time to read the excellent article on the real health risks of ozone, by Competitive Enterprise Institute fellow Joel Schwartz, from the April issue of Environment & Climate News (which this author serves as senior editor), published by The Heartland Institute.
Schwartz examines all the claims of health risks from atmospheric ozone, and finds that each one has been exaggerated far beyond the scientific reality. In each case, the evidence all shows that ozone poses little or no risk at all to human life. It is simply a Boogie Man used by Luddites and other enemies of freedom to demonize modern technology.
For instance, Schwartz investigates the realities of asthma incidence, to test the claims that ozone causes asthma attacks. He finds that the evidence shows that there is no connection whatever:
The prevalence of asthma has nearly doubled in America during the past 25 years, at the same time levels of ozone and other air pollutants sharply declined nationwide. Emergency room visits for asthma are at their lowest in July and August--when ozone levels are at their highest. A government-funded study of thousands of children in California reported that children who grew up in the highest-ozone areas had a 30 percent lower risk of developing asthma, when compared with children in low-ozone areas.
While ozone can trigger asthma attacks, the effect is small. According to estimates by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), eliminating virtually all human-caused ozone in California--where millions of people live in areas with by far the highest ozone levels in the country--would reduce asthma-related emergency room (ER) visits by only 1.8 percent.Schwartz masterfully demolishes the other claims about health problems caused by ozone, and points out that these false claims are repeatedly made by supposedly credible sources:
Unfortunately, medical experts are often key players in the exaggeration of air pollution's health effects. Scientists, regulators, activists, and journalists continue to cite the  CHS [Children's Health Study] study as evidence that air pollution increases people's risk of developing asthma [the study tested effects of ozone levels far higher than are present anywhere in the United States, and the reports of it suppressed contradictory evidence the study found showing that high ozone levels were associated with a 30 percent lower risk of asthma in children, which should certainly have been the main point that people took from it].
- A researcher from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins asserted in the introduction to a recent Sierra Club report, "Traffic presents a unique public health threat" including "children's asthma rates occurring at epidemic proportions."
- After the American Lung Association gave Tarrant County (Fort Worth), Texas a failing grade for ozone in 2003, the president of a local branch of the Tarrant County Medical Society asserted, "It means we can anticipate a worsening of an already epidemic asthma problem."
- In a recent commentary on air pollution and asthma in the Journal of the American Medical Association, two prominent air pollution health researchers state, "Evidence exists that air pollution may have contributed to the increasing prevalence of asthma." The evidence they cite is the CHS asthma study.
- When the CHS asthma study was released, the director of the pediatric asthma program at the University of California at Davis asserted, "Sacramento is a very high ozone area, so [the CHS asthma study] is going to be very relevant to us."
None of this would matter if reducing air pollution were free. But Americans will have to spend more than $100 billion per year--about $1,000 per household--just to attain the current eight-hour ozone standard. That money--or more correctly, the labor, capital, and know-how that money represents--would otherwise go to health care, food, housing, entertainment, education, and other things Americans value. Instead, for this stupendous sum we will eliminate at best a few tenths of a percent of all respiratory disease and distress.
Health is the main justification for the nation's costly air quality management system, but reducing ozone would rank near the bottom of any rational list of priorities for improving Americans' health.So, when commenters jump on this site and cite "evidence" showing that ozone does indeed have deleterious health effects, and when you hear "experts" on television telling us about how dangerous atmospheric ozone is to us all, you shall know exactly how to respond:
S. T. Karnick is senior editor for the Heartland Institute and writes frequently for numerous national publications.