EPA Lowers Permissible Soot Levels in Air

FRIDAY, Dec. 14 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finalized new standards, first proposed in June, to regulate soot and other fine-particle air pollution, officials announced Friday.

The new annual standards call for reducing fine-particle pollution to 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air from the current standard of 15 micrograms, which was set in 1997.

These added protections will "do more to safeguard the health and well-being of American families," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said during an early afternoon press conference Friday.

Fine-particle pollution -- known as PM2.5 -- comes from sources such as power plants, refineries and diesel trucks. It can reach deep into the lungs and cause a variety of health problems, including asthma and heart disease.

"By 2030, it is expected that all standards that cut PM2.5 from diesel vehicles and equipment alone will prevent up to 40,000 premature deaths, 32,000 hospital admissions and 4.7 million days of work lost due to illness," Jackson said.

In terms of health costs, savings could exceed $9 billion a year by 2020, Jackson said. Estimated costs of implementing the new measures range from $53 million to $350 million, she said.

Environmental advocates praised the new protections.

"The EPA's long-awaited standards for soot are an important win for the American people and our environment," John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement Friday.

Walke said reducing this form of air pollution will save thousands of lives and prevent thousands of asthma attacks and heart attacks, as well as various respiratory illnesses, including lung cancer.

"Today's standards define how much of this pollution is unhealthy for humans to breathe and set clean-air limits that will ensure healthy air quality," he added. Federal and state pollution-control programs must now meet these standards once finalized, he added.

Steps the EPA has already taken, however, mean that "99 percent of U.S. counties are projected to meet the standard without any additional action," Jackson said. Fewer than 10 counties in the United States -- out of more than 3,000 -- will have to take more action to meet the new standard by 2020, she noted.

The EPA announcement resulted from a 2009 federal court ruling. After the EPA failed to meet the original deadline, a court order set Dec. 14 as the new deadline.

"By strengthening the standards for soot, metals and other pollution, the EPA is doing its job under the Clean Air Act to protect Americans from dangerous air pollution," Walke said.

To determine if the pollution limits need to be revised, the EPA is required under the Clean Air Act to review its air-quality standards every five years.

Jackson noted that this new protection won't affect existing standards for other fine particles or coarse particles, including dust from farms and other sources.

More information

For more information on air pollution, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

SOURCES: Dec. 14, 2012, press conference with: Lisa Jackson, Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; press statement, Natural Resources Defense Council

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