Biden administration steps in to strengthen health standards for soot pollution

WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency today proposed legislation that would tighten a national limit for soot pollution in the United States. He proposes setting the annual health standard for soot, otherwise known as fine particulate air pollution, or PM2.5, somewhere between 9-10 micrograms per cubic metre. This represents an improvement over the current standard set a decade ago — 12 micrograms — but would still not adequately protect human health, according to the agency’s Scientific Advisory Board and a new NRDC analysis of federal data.

The EPA also proposes taking public comment on a standard of 8 or 11 micrograms. The agency has not proposed strengthening the daily or 24-hour health standard. Both steps depart from the recommendations of EPA’s expert science advisors, the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, which said the agency should strengthen the 24-hour sanitary standard and tighten the annual standard to a minimum of 8 micrograms per cubic metre.

Vijay Limaye, senior climate and health scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) made the following statement:

“This is a real improvement for public health. The proposed stronger standard would save up to 4,700 more lives nationwide each year, but that still leaves too many people dying. The country deserves a safer standard.

“Legal limits on deadly air pollution are based on air quality monitoring data, yet too many counties don’t even have air quality monitors to monitor conditions on the ground. This leaves communities underprotected and national health standards underenforced.

“Millions of Americans still live in areas with dangerous levels of soot air pollution, and low-income communities and communities of color suffer disproportionately. EPA data shows that too many people suffer and even die at the level of the proposed standards. Therefore, the agency should adopt annual and 24-hour safer health standards to help reduce long-standing health care disparities. EPA also needs to strengthen and expand air quality monitoring to better quantify these damages nationwide.

Soot air pollution from automobile tailpipes, power plants, and other fossil fuel operations seriously harms human health, damaging the heart, brain, and cardiovascular system, and causing premature deaths. Air pollution limits under the Clean Air Act help the country avoid 370,000 premature deaths a year.

A new NRDC analysis of EPA air monitoring data finds, among other things:

  • At least 57 million people live in areas with currently legal but still unhealthy levels of air pollution from soot;
  • 20.9 million people live in the areas exceed the current limits of the Clean Air Act;
  • More than 38 million people live in 107 counties with average soot levels modeled to be within the proposed legal limits but still at unhealthy levels (from 8 to 9 µg/m3); for 6.9 million of them, there is no direct soot monitoring happening in their counties; And,
  • 118 counties with unsafe soot pollution levels lack a monitor entirely to directly assess compliance with the Clean Air Act.

EPA’s particulate air pollution health standards, once finalized, will be law for at least another 5 years before the Clean Air Act requires the agency to revise the standards.

For more, here is a blog by Vijay Limaye, senior climate and health scientist at NRDC.

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NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international non-profit environmental organization with over 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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