Houston Exceeds Health Standards For Particulate Matter: More Work Ahead

Texans can breathe a bit easier now.

The Environmental Protection Agency today released updated standards for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), often referred to as “soot” (although it actually comprises a broader array of fine particles).  Fine particulate pollution in the air we breathe — some of it directly emitted from cars and trucks, some of it resulting from factories and electric power plants hundreds of miles upwind – can lodge in the lungs and cause a variety of respiratory and pulmonary disease, especially in children and seniors.

EDF praised the move, which will help secure healthy air for millions of Americans, including those in Houston where existing soot levels already exceed the new limits.

The Houston Chronicle writes that the new standards could “require cleaner operations along the Ship Channel” and slow expansion for some industrial operations.

The new annual standard will be 12 micrograms per cubic matter, helping to protect those especially vulnerable to air pollution, including the one in 11 U.S. children with asthma. Soot is one of the deadliest types of air pollution. It can cause heart attacks, asthma attacks, and even premature death. Recent studies have found a possible association with autism as well.

While the new standard was released today, Houston will have some time to implement pollution control measures in advance of a non-attainment designation, which, if to happen, would likely be in late 2014.

Thus, the region has an opportunity to take action now. EDF is working to reduce emissions for areas near the Port of Houston, where particulate matter concentrations are the highest in the region. Recommendations that we’ve made to the port include paving of industrial park east and use of shorepower for ships that call on the port, especially the new cruise lines that plan to call on the port. We’ve also called upon the port to establish more rigorous pollution controls across all sectors of operations as part of their Clean Air Strategy Plan. Stay tuned for more updates on our efforts to work with the port and regional stakeholders to reduce harmful fine particles.

Other leading health and environmental groups issued strong support of the new standards today:

  • A letter signed by over 650 health and medical professionals stated: Fine particulate air pollution is cutting short the lives of tens of thousands of Americans each year. Studies have shown fine particulate air pollution is shortening lives by up to six months… Numerous, long-term multi-city studies have shown clear evidence of premature death, cardiovascular and respiratory harm as well as reproductive and developmental harm at contemporary concentrations far below the level of the current standard. Infants, children and teenagers are especially sensitive, as are the elderly, and people with cardiovascular disease, lung disease, or diabetes. The new EPA standards should be set at levels that will protect these sensitive people with an adequate margin of safety, as required by the Clean Air Act.
  • Union of Concerned Scientists: It is encouraging to see the agency following the Clean Air Act, especially in the face of strong industry pressure to ignore science again. The law is clear: the Clean Air Act requires air pollution standards to be based solely on the best available science regarding what is protective of health. Other factors, such as costs, can be considered when the standards are implemented. But it is science that should determine what level of pollution is safe for humans.
  • American Lung Association: We know clearly that particle pollution is harmful at levels well below those previously deemed to be safe. Particle pollution causes premature deaths and illness, threatening the millions of Americans who breathe high levels of it,” explained Norman H. Edelman, MD, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association. “By setting a more protective standard, the EPA is stating that we as a nation must protect the health of the public by cleaning up even more of this lethal pollutant. Reducing particle pollution will prevent heart attacks and asthma attacks, and will keep children out of the emergency room and hospitals. It will save lives.”
  • Natural Resources Defense Council: From President Frances Beinecke: The Clean Air Act grants Americans the right to clean air. The updated soot standards help deliver that. Now the administration should build on this success and issue carbon limits. Together, these safeguards would protect the health and well-being of millions of Americans.
  • Dr. Christopher Lillis, doctor of internal medicine and board member of Doctors for America: As a health professional, I commend the Environmental Protection Agency for finalizing an important rule that will result in innumerable benefits to public health. I have seen countless patients with emphysema and asthma whose health conditions have worsened due to soot pollution in our atmosphere. Reducing soot pollution also reduces tens of thousands of heart attacks. Today’s announcement is a breath of fresh air for doctors, asthma patients, and their loved ones.
  • Sierra Club: From Executive Director Michael Brune: The Sierra Club applauds the Environmental Protection Agency for issuing these life-saving clean air standards to protect Americans from life-threatening air pollution. Pollution kills – and it also costs Americans billions of dollars each year.  The EPA’s soot safeguards will keep dangerous metals and chemicals out of the air we breathe to save thousands of lives and billions of dollars.
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  1. Posted January 11, 2013 at 5:12 AM | Permalink

    This is a great update by the Environmental Protection Agency as we all are seriously suffering from the side effects of the pollution. Either it’s from our automobiles, power plants, electronic items or some other means. I am happy to know that the leading health and environmental groups also supports these new guidelines as well. It’s in our own hands that we will keep and maintain our environment clear and safe for our own future.
    AOK Emergency Room Houston

  2. Posted January 12, 2013 at 5:45 AM | Permalink

    The new standard that Environmental Protection Agency released will directly help in building a healthy environment to the people of america and they can enjoy living a healthy and pollution free life .

  3. Posted February 4, 2013 at 9:52 AM | Permalink

    The new standards will create more work but it’s encouraging to see that the citizens of Houston will be able to breathe cleaner air.