TCS Daily

No Smog for the Fear Factory?

By Joel Schwartz - May 3, 2006 12:00 AM

Ozone smog levels have plummeted during the last three years. Between 2003 and 2005, the fraction of the nation's ozone monitors violating the federal 8-hour ozone standard plunged from 43 percent down to a record-low 18 percent.[1] The last three years were the three lowest-ozone years on record.

Environmental fear factories aren't celebrating. Shortly after the 2005 ozone season ended, the environmental group Clean Air Watch proclaimed "Smog Problems Nearly Double in 2005."[2] Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection warned "Number of Ozone Action Days Up from Last Year."[3] And EPA's New England regional office noted that "New England Experienced More Smog Days during Recent Summer."[4] Writing on 2005 ozone levels in Connecticut, a New York Times headline warned "A Hot Summer Meant More Smog.[5]

Ozone levels were indeed higher in 2005 when compared with 2004. 2005 was only the second lowest ozone year since the 1970s, while 2004 was the lowest. Ozone levels were so improbably low in 2004 that it would have been astounding if ozone wasn't higher in 2005. The real news was the unprecedented plunge in areas violating the ozone standard, and the fact that 2005 was one of the hottest years on record -- conditions that favor high ozone -- yet ozone levels remained at historic lows.[6] Both stories have gone unnoticed by the mainstream media.

Figure 1 displays the trends in days exceeding the federal 8-hour and 1-hour ozone standards during the last 30 years. 8-hour ozone exceedances declined 80 percent, while 1-hour exceedances declined more than 95 percent.

Figure 1. Trend in Average Number of Days per Year Exceeding the Federal 1-hour and 8-hour Ozone Standards

Notes: Solid lines give average for all sites in the U.S. Broken lines give average for sites continuously operated from 1985-2005. Data downloaded from EPA at

Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) has also been dropping. PM2.5 declined steadily each year from 1999 to 2004, before rising a few percent in 2005. Like ozone, PM2.5 can jog up and down from year to year based on weather, so the rise in 2005 isn't cause for alarm. Emissions and ambient levels of PM2.5-forming pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and volatile organic compounds, continue to go down. Just as for ozone, the press has missed the drop in PM2.5 violations. Thirty percent of monitoring sites violated federal PM2.5 standards in 2001, but the nation cut that percentage in half by the end of 2005.[7]

The medley of environmental scares continues as the American Lung Association (ALA) releases the latest installment of its annual State of the Air report. In some ways the report is an improvement over previous editions. Where ALA used to create the false impression that air pollution was increasing and would continue to increase, State of the Air now admits that both air pollution and emissions have been declining, and that upcoming regulations will continue to clean the air.

Nevertheless, State of the Air 2006 is still mainly nonsense on stilts. ALA continues to claim that nearly half of all Americans live in areas that violate the 8-hour ozone standard. ALA used data from 2002-2004 for its estimates -- a period for which 30 percent of ozone monitors violated the 8-hour standard. But ozone was much lower 2003-2005, with a national violation rate of only 18 percent. ALA's claim of high ozone levels today is thus based on a spike in ozone that occurred four years ago, back in the summer of 2002.

Even with the older data, ALA still counts clean areas as dirty. For example, ALA counts all 3 million people in San Diego County as living in areas that violate the 8-hour ozone standard. But only Alpine, a small rural town, actually violates the standard. The other 99 percent of San Diegans breathe clean air and have for many years. Nevertheless, under ALA's grading system, if even a tiny part of a county violates a pollution standard, ALA counts all people in the county as breathing air that violates the standard. ALA counted clean areas as dirty in dozens of other populous counties around the country, including Los Angeles, Cook (Chicago), and Maricopa (Phoenix), artificially inflating its "dirty air" tally by tens of millions of people.

Even in areas that have the worst air pollution in the nation, ALA wasn't satisfied with reporting actual pollution levels and instead resorted to pollution inflation. For example, ALA claims Riverside County in California averaged 90 days per year exceeding the 8-hour ozone standard during 2002-2004. But even Banning, the worst location in the county, averaged 50 exceedance days per year, while Indio, the best location, averaged 17.

State of the Air has received less and less press coverage with each successive edition. Doom-and-gloom is mother's milk in journalism. But ALA's report looks pretty much the same each year, and is probably starting to provoke yawns in the nation's newsrooms. If we could reduce press coverage of State of the Air as quickly as we're reducing actual air pollution, we'd be in pretty good shape.

Or maybe not. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so does the environmental fear industry. If recent publicity is any guide, greenhouse gases have become the new air pollution.

Joel Schwartz is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Lauren Campbell of AEI collected the 2005 ozone monitoring data used in this article from state environment agencies.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, air pollution data discussed in this essay were downloaded from EPA at

[2] O'Donnell, Smog Problems Nearly Double in 2005 (Washington, DC: Clean Air Watch, November 10 2005),

[3] Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, "NUMBER OF OZONE ACTION DAYS UP FROM LAST YEAR," September 28, 2005,

[4] EPA Region 1, New England Experienced More Smog Days During Recent Summer (Boston: September 26 2005),

[5] J. Holtz, "A Hot Summer Meant More Smog," New York Times, October 2, 2005.

[6] U. L. McFarling and M. Bustillo, "2005 Vying with '98 as Record Hot Year," Los Angeles Times, December 16, 2005.

[7] National PM2.5 monitoring didn't begin until 1999, so 2001 is the first three-year period available for calculating national PM2.5 violation rates.



all by itself?
Did ozone levels go down all by themselves? Or did environmental regulations play a role? Did the American Enterprise Institute and its corporate backers support those regulations? Do they support the stronger measures needed to keep LA from dangerously high (though lower than two years ago) ozone, so high that children are advised for their safety not to play outdoors?

And how do they feel about PCBs? Did the AEI deny the relation between PCBs and ozone depletion? Now that PCB levels are going down and the ozone hole is getting smaller, does the AEI deny that regulations caused this to happen?

What does the AEI think about global warming?

If you want to know how these guys work, see "Thank you for smoking".

ah yes
The old liberal mantra. If there is anything good in the world, it's because somebody passed a law.

How can this be
Just yesterday, Dr. stephen, self declared expert on everything, told me that pollution, once in the atmosphere, lasts forever.

PCB's and ozone depletion? Oh, my. You may want to reconsider this LG.

>"Now that PCB levels are going down and the ozone hole is getting smaller, does the AEI deny that regulations caused this to happen?"

They should. The ozone hole is a natural feature with a natural cycle.

>"What does the AEI think about global warming?"

If they are smart, and base their conclusions on fact and reality, they will say their is inconclusive evidence, and no small degree of evidence to the contrary, that GW is caused by human activity.

>"If you want to know how these guys work, see "Thank you for smoking"."

If you want to know how reality works don't rely on Hollywood to tell you what it is.

I left that part out of my post.

Greenhouse Gases
Ozone recovering, but unlikely to stabilize at pre-1980 levels, says study
University of Colorado at Boulder & NOAA, May 3, 2006

While Earth's ozone layer is slowly being replenished following an international 1987 agreement banning CFCs, the recovery is occurring in a changing atmosphere and is unlikely to stabilize at pre-1980 levels, says a new University of Colorado at Boulder study...

...Future ozone levels likely will be dominated by air temperature, atmospheric dynamics and an abundance of trace gases, she said. Trace gases include significant amounts of nitrous oxide, or N2O -- a result of fertilizer production on Earth -- and could lead to significant depletion of protective ozone molecules.

"In another 50 years CFCs won't be the dominant factor controlling ozone," she said. "Instead, we think it will be factors like greenhouse gases, N2O and methane."

...Scientific evidence indicates ozone was relatively stable over the past few thousand years, said Weatherhead. The Arctic is the only place in the world where indigenous people were spurred to develop protective mechanisms to shield their eyes from UV radiation, and fossil pigments of plants imply UV radiation has been stable for thousands of years. "It is the past few decades that have been unusual," said Weatherhead.

if the shoe fits
In the case of air quality (I can't confirm of deny a liberal montra for everything), regulations made it better.

And its CFC, not PCB that destroys high altitude ozone, I got the initials wrong. Thanks to sh0es1 for the friendly correction.

Good, But Tell More
Good, and I am in tears and all choked up about it. A question though -- is there a direct relation of the smog reduction to a decrease in manufacturing? See if there is a "delayed fit" of manufacturing decrease to the smog graph.

it must be the monitors
They must need re-calibrating, just like the GW flaws, it must need to be re-adjusted to prove the disaster is looming. Junk science will prove this just isn't true…somehow. The earth is dying and it is all mans fault, everyone know that. This has to be the fault of the ant-intellectuals and anti-environmentalists.

if that's so
then please explain why it was govt regulations that permitted the pollution in the first place. (read up on riparian rights, before you post)

also explain why air and water quality were improving in those areas where the govt didn't make it impossible, prior to the regulations being passed.

The great and powerfull Oz has told us that govt regulations alone are responsible for the improvement in air and water quality.

Proposing alternative explanations will get you reassigned to the ninth layer of hell if you are not carefull.

TCS Daily Archives