The long road to 0.075: a statistician’s perspective of the process for setting ozone standards

Speaker: Jim Zidek

Date: Thu, Nov 26, 2015

Location: PIMS, University of British Columbia

Conference: UBC Statistics Distinguished Speaker

Subject: Atmospheric and Oceanic Physics: Climate Modelling, Environmental Science, Applied Mathematics, Statistics

Class: Scientific


The presentation will take us along the road to the ozone standard for the United States, announced in Mar 2008 by the US Environmental Protection Agency, and then the new proposal in 2014. That agency is responsible for monitoring that nation’s air quality standards under the Clean Air Act of 1970. I will describe how I, a Canadian statistician, came to serve on the US Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) for Ozone that recommended the standard and my perspectives on the process of developing it. I will introduce the rich cast of players involved including the Committee, the EPA staff, “blackhats,” “whitehats,” “gunslingers,” politicians and an unrevealed character waiting in the wings who appeared onstage only as the 2008 standards had been formulated. And we will encounter a couple of tricky statistical problems that arose along with approaches, developed by the speaker and his coresearchers, which could be used to address them. The first was about how a computational model based on things like meteorology could be combined with statistical models to infer a certain unmeasurable but hugely important ozone level, the “policy related background level” generated by things like lightning, below which the ozone standard could not go. The second was about estimating the actual human exposure to ozone that may differ considerably from measurements taken at fixed site monitoring locations. Above all, the talk will be a narrative about the interaction between science and public policy - in an environment that harbors a lot of stakeholders with varying but legitimate perspectives, a lot of uncertainty in spite of the great body of knowledge about ozone and above all, a lot of potential risk to human health and welfare.