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Utah communities from Brigham City to St. George would flunk the new smog limits proposed Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

At least eight counties, including all of the Wasatch Front, would have higher-than-allowed ozone pollution if the EPA finally adopts a new standard within the range announced Thursday. Hundreds of counties nationwide also are expected to be "out of compliance" because of the new regulations, said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson.

Emphasizing his background as a 26-year agency scientist, Johnson said the new standard was based on health studies pointing to the dangers of smog. He said the cost of cleaning up the pollution - which the Clean Air Act bars him from considering in developing the standards - would be better understood in a few weeks.

"Based on the current science," he said in a morning news media call, "I have concluded the current standard is insufficient to protect the public health."

In Utah, a health advocate and a pollution researcher agreed the tougher ozone standard would be an improvement. But they noted the proposed range still falls short of fulfilling the ultimate goal: safeguarding the health of Americans and their environment.

Colorless and odorless, ozone irritates the lungs, aggravates asthma, increases the risk of infection, decreases lung function and can be blamed for premature death. It is formed when the soot from combustion engines is cooked with other airborne chemicals under the summer sun.

"The bottom line is we have not found a clear threshold with most of these pollutants for what is safe," said Arden Pope, a Brigham Young University researcher whose groundbreaking studies on air pollution effects have helped shaped the nation's clean air laws.

Pope noted that the EPA's science advisory board proposed even lower ozone pollution limits. He said stricter limits "would almost certainly have beneficial health effects."

All 29 Utah counties comply with the current standard. Based on the formula EPA uses to set the limits for ozone, six counties had ozone pollution that would exceed the least stringent proposal: Weber, Davis, Salt Lake, Utah, Washington and San Juan. If Johnson adopts the more stringent proposal, Box Elder County also would be on the list.

And another four counties could be added, depending on the EPA's final definitions.

Cherise Udell, a co-founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air, an advocacy group, said current ozone standards fall far short, so the EPA's proposal is a positive step. She added, though, that her group is "highly concerned that the big polluters are trying to undermine this process by lobbying to keep the current standard."

"I think there's probably been a little bit of bullying going on that would undermine what is in the best interests of America's children, and that is clean air," she said.

Earlier this week, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said cleaning up Utah's air is one of his top three priorities. His administration has created a panel to advise state leaders on ways to fund air-quality improvements.

In addition, the state Air Quality Board decided earlier this month to study Utah's current air-quality laws to make sure they go far enough in protecting health. The move was pushed by a newly formed group of doctors who say Utah's air pollution is causing around 1,000 premature deaths a year and billions of dollars in health-related costs.

Rick Sprott, who was confirmed by the state Senate this week as Utah's environmental director, said air-quality officials would be reviewing EPA's proposed range for smog.

Once the final standard is chosen, states will be required to file a plan to reduce ozone pollution. He said it is unclear what Utah will need to do, but noted new vehicle emission and fuel standards are gradually being added to pollution control in Utah and nationwide.

"Those are absolutely going to go a long way," he said. "Whether that's enough, [to clean up Utah's smog] it's too soon to say."

In addition, Sprott has his eye on how the EPA handles smog that drifts into Utah from other areas, including Los Angeles, and the possibility that parts of Utah have unusually high "background" levels of smog.

Capping ozone levels

* Current law says ozone pollution, based on a special formula, cannot be more than 0.08 parts ozone per million parts of air.

* The EPA is proposing to tighten the standard to between 0.07 and 0.075. A panel of scientific advisers told the EPA the limit should be as low as 0.06 and no higher than 0.07.

* EPA will take public comments for 90 days. A final decision on the ozone caps is expected in March. Any additional ozone controls probably will not be required until after 2013.