updated 4/10/2008 9:18:15 PM ET 2008-04-11T01:18:15

An advisory panel of scientists told the Environmental Protection Agency that its new air quality standard for smog fails to protect public health as required by law and should be strengthened.

In a stern letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, the advisers expressed frustration that their unanimous recommendation for a more stringent standard was ignored when Johnson set the new smog requirements last month.

Johnson on March 12 lowered the amount of ozone that should be allowed in the air for it to be considered healthy from 80 parts per billion to 75 parts per billion. That meant 345 additional counties nationwide are in violation of the federal air quality standards for ozone, commonly known as smog, and must find ways to reduce the pollution.

While business lobbyists wanted the smog requirement unchanged, most health experts had argued that even stronger measures were needed.

The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, created by Congress to advise the EPA, had urged the EPA to set a standard for ozone of between 60 parts per billion and 70 parts per billion.

In a letter sent to Johnson earlier this week, the committee said it remained convinced that the EPA's concentration level "fails to ... ensure an adequate margin of safety" for the elderly, children and people with respiratory illnesses.

The April 7 letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press, also criticized the EPA for not further strengthening a separate smog standard aimed at protecting forests, agricultural lands and the ecosystem, saying such action was "scientifically well justified."

The committee's criticism was viewed by some as expected since the panel's recommendations had been so clearly ignored.

The letter said the 25 scientists — seven committee members plus 18 members of the special ozone review panel — unanimously agreed they should "not endorse the new primary ozone standard as being sufficiently protective of public health."

"We sincerely hope that in light of these scientific judgments and the supporting scientific evidence, you or your successor will select a more health-protective ... standard during the upcoming review cycle," the committee wrote.

The EPA by law is required to review the health standard for ozone and a number of other air pollutants every five years.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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