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US Environmental Protection Agency finailses tougher standards for PM2.5

The United States  yesterday strengthened the annual health-based national ambient air quality standard for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from a level of 12 µg/m³ to 9 µg/m³. 

The current daily PM standard of 35 µg/m³ has not been changed.

The EPA claim this reduction will prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths, save and 290,000 workdays and yield up to $46 billion in net health benefits in 2032. For every $1 spent from this action, there could be as much as $77 in human health benefits in 2032.

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan with members of Moms (and Kids) Clean Air Force yesterday

In 2020 the EPA decided not to toughen up the existing limits which has been established in 2012 however, in 2021, they said they would reconsider that decision. The new standards have been set in consultation 

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said: ‘This final air quality standard will save lives and make all people healthier, especially within America’s most vulnerable and overburdened communities. Cleaner air means that our children have brighter futures, and people can live more productive and active lives, improving our ability to grow and develop as a nation.’

In addition to a more protective annual PM standard, the EPA also issued new threshold levels for the air quality index, changing the pollution levels needed to trigger some air quality alerts.

The EPA have projected future fine particle pollution levels and identified 52 counties that they believe would not meet the strengthened standard by 2032. Of these, 23 are in California while the next poorest performing state is Texas where just four counties will miss the target.

The new rules will also see a modification to the PM2.5 monitoring network design criteria to include an environmental justice factor. A previous ruling that additional monitoring should take place in areas of poor air quality  has been amended to require the monitor to be ‘sited in an at-risk community, particularly where there are anticipated effects from sources of air pollution in the area.’

Dominique Browning, Director and Co-Founder of Moms Clean Air Force said: ‘Particle pollution is a killer. In the United States alone, it cuts thousands of lives short, taking a staggering toll. Children’s bodies are uniquely vulnerable to the harms of soot pollution.

‘Moms Clean Air Force commends EPA for taking a significant step forward in strengthening the annual standard for particle pollution… EPA’s new national health standard for particle pollution is the first improvement in over a decade. Soot is associated with increased infant mortality, hospital admissions for heart and lung diseases, cancer, and increased asthma severity. EPA’s finalized protection is an important step towards cleaner, healthier air for all children..’

Alison Lee MD, chair of the American Thoracic Society Environmental Health Policy Committee said: ‘A more protective annual standard will save lives, reduce asthma and COPD exacerbations, and improve the quality of air for everyone. While I am disappointed that EPA did not go further to address the daily PM standard, today’s action by EPA is important progress and will bring cleaner air to communities across the U.S.’

American Petroleum Institute weren’t convinced: ‘The new standard of 9 µg/m³ is near naturally occurring levels of fine particles and will place nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population in areas of nonattainment. This will lead to new controls on both industrial and non-industrial sources, creating new permitting challenges while jeopardizing nearly $200 billion in economic activity and as many as one million jobs. Emissions from non-point sources like wildfires will only further complicate efforts to achieve compliance and likely increase the number of nonattainment areas.’

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