Wednesday, February 7, 2024

EPA Finalizes Stronger Standards For Harmful Soot Pollution, Increasing Health, Clean Air Protections For Families, Workers, Communities

On February 7, the US Environmental Protection Agency
finalized a significantly stronger air quality standard that will better protect America’s families, workers, and communities from the dangerous and costly health effects of fine particle pollution, also known as soot. 

By strengthening the annual health-based national ambient air quality standard for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from a level of 12 micrograms per cubic meter to 9 micrograms per cubic meter, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s updated standard will save lives — preventing up to 4,500 premature deaths and 290,000 lost workdays, yielding 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.

This action is based on the best available science, as required by the Clean Air Act, and sets an air quality level that EPA will help states and Tribal Nations achieve over the coming years — including through complementary EPA standards to reduce pollution from power plants, vehicles, and industrial facilities, paired with historic investments under the federal Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

These actions bolster the U.S. economy by deploying billions of dollars and creating good-paying jobs across the transition to cleaner technologies. 

This strategy will make Americans healthier and more productive, while underpinning a manufacturing resurgence in America. Since 2000, PM2.5 concentrations in the outdoor air have decreased by 42% while the U.S. Gross Domestic Product increased by 52% during that time.

Along with strengthening the primary annual PM2.5 standard, EPA is modifying the PM2.5 monitoring network design criteria to include a factor that accounts for proximity of populations at increased risk of PM2.5-related health effects to sources of air pollution. 

This will advance environmental justice by ensuring localized data collection in overburdened areas to inform future NAAQS reviews.

Click Here for the complete announcement.

             PA Reactions

Matt Walker, Clean Air Council Advocacy Director, issued the following statement:

“Today’s announcement from the EPA is a significant win for public health and will allow millions of Americans to breathe easier. 

“By reducing the annual National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) by 25 percent, EPA will be saving tens of thousands of lives per year, protecting children, the elderly, and people in overburdened communities from lasting health harms. 

“This standard will also save billions of dollars from associated health care costs and lost work days. In Pennsylvania, we anticipate substantial air quality improvements in the seven counties that are not in attainment of the new standard.

“However, since there is no safe level of PM2.5 exposure, we call on EPA to soon further reduce the annual standard. Reducing the standard to the World Health Organization’s suggested 5 µg/m³ limit would save an additional 40,000 lives and billions more dollars. 

“EPA should also reduce the 24-hour standard, which would mean less severe daily spikes in soot exposure. The U.S. can lead the way in further improving our air quality, resulting in thriving, healthy communities.”

The Evangelical Environmental Network applauds President Biden, Administrator Regan, and the dedicated EPA staff for prioritizing the health and lives of the American people, especially those most vulnerable, by making this much-needed and long-overdue update to cut soot pollution.

In response, the Rev. Dr. Jessica Moerman, President & CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network, released the following statement:

“Every child deserves to reach their full God-given potential. However, before they even draw their own first breath, soot pollution can rob children of a bright future, saddling them with asthma, reduced IQ, and complications from pre-term birth. 

“Therefore, it is no understatement to call today’s announcement truly life-changing. The strengthened soot standard will ensure more Americans can experience a more “abundant life” (John 10:10), saving thousands of lives, improving the quality of life for hundreds of thousands more, and saving billions in avoided health costs.” 

“As pro-life evangelicals, we have a special concern for the vulnerable and marginalized, including our children. We want children to be born healthy and unhindered by the ravages of pollution. 

“The medical community has long known that unborn children are particularly vulnerable to environmental impacts. PM2.5 is among the most harmful health threats  to young and developing children. 

“Currently, 1 in 9 pregnancies in the U.S. result in pre-term birth, and the rate is even higher for Black mothers and babies, with 1 in 5 pregnancies resulting in pre-term birth.  

“The leading cause of pre-term birth is intrauterine inflammation, and the leading cause of this inflammation is PM2.5.[2] The effect of this pollution is approximately 16,000 pre-term births in the U.S., with 35% of these births resulting in death.[3]

“These consequences are unacceptable. That is why EEN celebrates EPA’s leadership to ensure safe air for our communities and neighborhoods by lowering the annual soot standard. 

“The job, however, is not done. We commit to continuing to work with our state and federal partners to see the full and effective implementation of the new standard without delay. We also cannot stop there. 

“We need further protections for our children’s health, including lowering the current 24-hour standard from 35 to 25 μg/m3 and the annual standard to 8-5 μg/m3. 

“For us, creation care is a biblical command and a matter of life, which is why we will work to defend our children’s health from the dangers of PM2.5.”

In response to the proposal, Moms Clean Air Force Ohio River Valley Field Organizer Rachel Meyer released the following statement: 

“Particle pollution is a killer. Here in Pennsylvania, researchers estimate that particle pollution cuts short over 25,000 lives per year—a staggering toll for Pennsylvania families and communities. 

“Children’s bodies are uniquely vulnerable to the harms of soot pollution. We commend EPA for taking a significant step forward in strengthening the annual standard for particle pollution, also known as soot, to 9 micrograms per cubic meter from its current level at 12. 

“EPA’s strengthened 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 a welcome step towards cleaner, healthier air for all children.

“This is personal for me: I live in Southwestern Pennsylvania where there is an ethane cracker plant manufacturing plastic. This plant alone is permitted to emit up to 163.7 tons of particle pollution annually. 

“Our region is ranked as the 14th worst for year-round particle pollution by the American Lung Association, and 20th worst for 24-hour particle pollution. 

“I have asthma, and struggle to breathe when the air quality is poor. The ethane cracker plant has been operational for just over a year and has already had multiple flaring events during which thick black smoke billows from flames hundreds of feet high. 

“Taken together, all of the EPA protections under Administrator Regan’s tenure are offering much-needed and significant progress. 

“EPA’s recent methane rule will dramatically slash climate-heating methane pollution–and protect people from the harmful volatile organic compounds and toxics released along with methane.  

“Stronger pollution protections for vehicles and power plants are anticipated in the coming months. So much is at stake for our children, our communities, and our collective future. 

“Members of Moms Clean Air Force will continue to demand that every one of these critical EPA protections gets across the finish line. We have absolutely no time to lose.”

PennEnvironment  released these comments on the new EPA soot regulation--

“Clean air is a right, not a privilege—and today’s announcement by Biden’s EPA makes a critical step toward delivering cleaner air for millions of Americans,” said Zachary Barber, Clean Air Advocate with the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. “Taking soot pollution out of our air will save lives and help kids with asthma breathe more easily, especially in places like Pennsylvania that regularly suffer from elevated soot levels.”

“This policy adds to the Biden administration’s extensive legacy of implementing strong science-based solutions to protect public health and shows that breathing clean and healthy air is a right and not a privilege,” added Barber. “We applaud President Biden and his team for championing this rule and securing cleaner air for millions of Pennsylvanians and Americans.”

The rule is celebrated by Pennsylvania’s elected officials, including Pennsylvania State Sen. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia), who shared: “Air pollution must be addressed. One form of it is soot pollution, which causes hospitalization and visits to the emergency room. We know it is also linked to asthma and cardiovascular disease. I support new regulations that protect us from air pollution here in the Commonwealth.”

“Pennsylvanians deserve better, and the EPA’s new standard can facilitate that by bringing about cleaner air, which will save an estimated 4,500 lives and avoid 800,000 asthma attacks every year!” remarked Rep. Chris Rabb (D-Philadelphia). “I strongly support the Biden administration’s efforts to lower this standard toward protecting the health and quality of life of Pennsylvania’s most impacted communities.”

Hear from Pennsylvania Leaders:

“As the new mayor of Chester - a city that faces numerous environmental justice issues and the negative health impacts of extreme air pollution - I am grateful to the Environmental Protection Agency for increasing the National Air Quality standards,” said Chester Mayor Stefan Roots. “Residents of Chester will directly benefit from more stringent air quality standards, being able to breathe fresher air and live longer, healthier lives.”

“I am glad that the EPA is working to make our air cleaner and protect our planet.  We are past the point of worrying about future impacts of air pollution. The impacts are here now, and will only get worse unless we take action,” said Bucks County Commissioner Robert Harvie.

“As we work to correct the environmental damage done over generations, stronger regulations around pollution are key to saving lives and ensuring we don’t make things worse for the future. We only get one planet to call home, and I’m proud to support the EPA in its ongoing mission to protect it,” said Bucks County Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia.

“The EPA’s strengthening of particulate emissions standards will have positive economic impact in areas of healthcare, productivity, and tourism, in addition to reducing ongoing damage to the environment,” remarked Lower Providence Township Supervisor Gary Neights. “Extensive research indicates that these benefits far outweigh costs of pollution mitigation, which in fact creates new jobs and technology.”

“There is nothing in this fragile world more dangerous than the existential threat that pollution poses. I applaud the Environmental Protection Agency for their efforts to bring meaningful change in soot levels!” said Oxford Borough Council President Kathryn Cloyd.

“We should all be committed to passing on clean air to our children. Childhood asthma is at an all time high.  It seems the least we can do, in every town, borough and city, is commit to doing whatever we can to secure a clean air future for everyone,” said Lansdowne Borough Council Member Jayne Young.


--  WESA/The Allegheny Front: New EPA Rule Could Reign In Air Pollution In Western PA

-- Pittsburgh Business Times: EPA’s New Rules On Soot Could Have Impact In Pittsburgh Region

[Posted: February 7, 2024]  PA Environment Digest

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