EPA Announces Proposed Rule to Reduce Particulate Matter in Air Pollution

Officials say the new particulate matter standards will protect disadvantaged communities, which are disproportionately impacted by air pollution that is known to pose health risks

Federal environmental officials have proposed new regulations that would tighten air quality standards for the first time in a decade, forcing refineries, power plants, and other large polluting facilities throughout the U.S. to cut particulate matter emissions.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a new rule to strengthen the national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS) for fine particle matter (PM 2.5) air pollution, as part of an effort to reduce the negative impact of air pollution on human health in the U.S., especially among disadvantaged communities.

The new rule would strengthen the primary standard from 12 micrograms per cubic meter to between 9 and 10 mcg per cubic meter, and comes after the Trump administration rejected stricter air pollution standards in 2020. But the regulation is much stricter than the rule issued by the Obama administration in 2012.

The change will impact air pollution emitted from sources like construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks, or fires. Other types of PM 2.5 air pollution form in the atmosphere from reactions of chemicals like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, pollutants emitted by power plants, industrial facilities, and vehicles.

Particulate Matter Risks

PM 2.5 is a type of air pollution made up of ultra-small particles of soot, dirt, and other particles of chemicals smaller than 2.5 micrometers, or 70 times smaller than a single human hair. These particles are so small they can easily be inhaled into the lungs and lead to widespread side effects in the body, including causing conditions like asthma and bronchitis.

The EPA conducted its last review of the NAAQS in 2012. New research since then has linked particulate matter exposure to potentially devastating effects on the body, such as vision loss, strokes, and an increased risk of cardiac arrest.

Research has also indicated exposure to particulate matter can increase the risk of suffering from cognitive impairments, like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life. Other research has linked air pollution to an increased risk of early death for Americans living in areas of heavy air pollution.

New Standards Seek to Protect Vulnerable Communities

The proposed safety regulations will help strengthen air pollution standards and address disparities among people of color who are disproportionately affected by air pollution, EPA officials claim.

Researchers said strengthening the standard to 9 mcg per cubic meter would prevent up to 4,200 premature deaths per year, 270,000 lost workdays per year, and more than $43 billion in healthcare costs in 2032.

The proposal is the latest among several programs issued by the Biden administration to reduce air pollution that threatens the health of Americans. The Good Neighbor Plan was also issued by the Biden Administration to address the smog that affects communities downwind of significant sources of air pollution.

The agency is also proposing to revise monitoring requirements and the Air Quality Index.

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“No one should be sickened by the environment they live in, and EPA’s proposal marks the start of changes that will have lasting impacts in communities all over, especially Black and brown communities that often experience increased PM pollution,” Dr. Doris Browne, former President of the National Medical Association, said in an EPA press release.

The EPA will accept public comment on the proposed rule for 60 days and will conduct a virtual public hearing. After reviewing comments, the agency plans to issue final standards later this year.

Comments on the proposed rule can be submitted to the EPA at www.regulations.gov or by mail at Docket No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2007-0492, Environmental Protection Agency, Mail code 6102T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20460.


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