US EPA Proposes New Clean Air Standards for Particulate Pollution (Soot)

Julie Mitchell

On June 14, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new national air quality standards for fine particulate pollution, or soot.  Extensive review including thousands of new scientific studies has shown that exposure to particulate pollution has been linked to a wide range of serious health problems, including premature death.  Breathing microscopic soot particles can penetrate the lungs and has been linked to cardiovascular and respiratory problems, including heart attacks and strokes, acute bronchitis, and aggravated asthma in children. 

particulate pollution Those most at risk from fine particulate pollution include people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children, and people in low-income households.  Fine particles come from several sources such as vehicles, smokestacks, and fires as well as when gases emitted by power plants, gasoline and diesel engines, and industrial processes react in the atmosphere.

The EPA is required under the Clean Air Act to review particulate pollution standards every five years; the last time the agency reviewed soot standards was in 2006.  However, last October the EPA said it wanted to delay issuing new rules until the summer of 2013 because it wanted more time to review scientific research.  The American Lung Association, in partnership with other organizations including the National Parks Conservation Association, and 11 states including New York and California, challenged the delay in court.  Last May a federal judge asked the courts to force action. 

In a statement, Albert Rizzo, MD, Chair of the Board of the American Lung Association,airpollution from medicineworld said, “Particle pollution kills—the science is clear, and overwhelming evidence shows that particle pollution at levels currently labeled as officially ’safe’ causes heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks.”

Under the proposed ruling, the standard for fine particles would be set at a level between 12 to 13 micrograms per cubic meter, down from the current annual standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter that has been in place since 1997.  The EPA says that by proposing a range it can collect input from the public as well as industry and public health groups to help determine the final standard.  Close to 99 percent of U.S. counties are already projected to meet the proposed standard by 2020.

The EPA expects the proposed standards to have direct health benefits, valued at $2.3 billion to $5.9 billion, or as much as $88 million a year, in health-costs savings annually, depending on the final level of the standard. The agency will issue a regulatory impact analysis estimating the potential benefits and costs of meet a revised yearly health standard in 2020.

The EPA’s proposed new ruling comes during a time when President Obama faces a challenging re-election battle based on both the U.S. economy and opposition from Republicans in Congress on any new environmental regulation.  And the new standards would force the oil and gas industry to curtail polluting, resulting in higher operating costs.  In an article in the Los Angeles Times, Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, was quoted in a statement, saying, “EPA’s proposal could substantially increase costs to states, municipalities, businesses and ultimately consumers without justified benefits.”  He said that companies would be reluctant to build new plants or refineries in counties that cannot meet the new standards, thereby taking an economic toll.

The EPA will issue the final standards by December 14th of this year.


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  • Posted on June 25, 2012. Listed in:

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