Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed health-based air quality standards for microscopic particulate pollution, one of the deadliest and most dangerous forms of air pollution. Inhalation of these tiny particles results in severe health impacts, including premature mortality, aggravation of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, changes in lung function and increased respiratory symptoms. If finalized, these proposed health protections will provide a long-term framework for securing cost-effective emission reductions in these health-harming pollutants from the largest source sectors.
Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) comes from highway dust, diesel exhaust, power plant emissions, wood burning and other air pollution sources, and consists of dirt, soot, aerosols, metals, acids and other microscopic particles.
EPA proposes reducing the current annual PM2.5 limits of 15 micrograms per cubic meter to levels within a range of 13 to 12 micrograms per cubic meter.
As I told the Houston Chronicle, this proposal is a “huge deal” and long overdue. The data on PM2.5 is even more compelling than the data for ozone. Simply stated, it’s one of the worst air pollutants endangering public health.
Unfortunately, it took court action to prompt release of these proposed standards. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review its particle pollution standards every five years to determine whether revisions are necessary, demanding that the agency issue standards protecting public health “with an adequate margin of safety.” However, because the EPA did not meet its five-year legal deadline for standards review, a federal court ordered the agency to sign the proposed particle pollution standards by June 14, 2012.
EDF has worked with the American Lung Association, Earthjustice, and National Parks Conservation Association to strongly advocate for last week’s proposed action. In 2006, EPA rejected the recommendations of its own Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee on the level of protection necessary to safeguard Americans from particulate pollution in accordance with science and the law. The resulting standards were successfully challenged in the federal court of appeals for the D.C. Circuit by the American Lung Association, Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund, and the National Parks Conservation Association. The court instructed EPA to take corrective action in light of the extensive scientific evidence of human health harms.|
Now that the proposed PM2.5 standards have been announced, EPA will accept public comment for 63 days after the standards are published in the Federal Register. EPA will hold two public hearings (Sacramento, CA and Philadelphia, PA) in July with issuance of the final standards by December 14 this year.
The science is clear and the health implications clearer. If finalized, the new standards will prevent 35,700 premature deaths, 2,350 heart attacks, 23,290 visits to the hospital and emergency room, 1.4 million cases of aggravate asthma and 2.7 million days of missed work or school due to air pollution-caused ailments.
Although long overdue, we look forward to implementation of the final PM2.5 standards, strengthening public health, enabling us all to breathe just a bit more deeply.