Federal health officials have released a series of new rules intended to reduce dangerous pollution emitted by municipal landfills, as part of an effort to increase air quality in surrounding frontline communities.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published final standards for a new emissions rule in the Federal Register on May 10, outlining compliance regulations seeking to limit the amount of methane pollution and toxic benzene produced by solid-waste landfills across the U.S.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is tasked with setting standards and protecting Americans from landfill pollution. In 2016, The EPA announced every state would be required to have a plan to reduce toxic and climate-damaging pollution by November 2017, or be subject to a federal plan. However, the Trump Administration delayed a final rule in 2019, formally extending the deadlines for states to develop the emissions reduction plans. As a result, at least nine states filed lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, opposing the delay and seeking to send the matter back to the EPA for further consideration.
Just last month, the Court vacated the Trump Administrations delay rule, allowing the EPA to finalize and enforce its final rule on pollution reduction from municipal solid waste landfills.
While some states have submitted plans for review, the EPA estimated approximately 1,600 landfills in 41 states will fall under the new federal plan once implemented.
The new federal rule is projected to eliminate more than 21,000 metric tons of health-harming pollution from non-methane pollutants each year, and will further eliminate methane emissions in landfills by more than 290,000 metric tons annually once the guidelines are fully implemented.
According to the EPA, landfills are the third largest source of methane pollution across the globe, and are one of the primary reasons for climate change. In addition to climate impacts, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that air pollution kills more than 7 million people each year, globally.
Exposure to air pollution is a growing global health concern, and a number of studies have highlighted potential issues individuals may face, including neurological problems, respiratory risks and other complications, which do not only impact children but also older adults and communities surrounding landfills.
A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association just last month found children between the ages of 5 and 12 years old have elevated blood pressure after experiencing short and long-term exposure to fine and coarse particulate matter air pollution.
Researchers stated that children who suffer from high blood pressure are more likely to face an increased risk of hypertension into adulthood, which may cause increased risk of high blood pressure also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke later in life.
A separate but supporting air pollution study published in November 2020 in the medical journal, Neurology, found individuals over the age of 70 who live in areas with higher levels of air pollution have increased gray matter atrophy in their brain, which is similar to what is found among individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.
The study indicated older adults who are exposed to air pollution may experience brain shrinkage consistent with Alzheimer’s disease, even when the exposure is at levels generally considered “safe”.
As a result of the findings, researchers recommend older individuals living in those areas make concerted efforts to reduce their exposure risk, by monitoring air quality and staying indoors when levels of pollution are high, as well as keeping car vents closed when driving.