EPA Revises Standards For Two Categories Of Particulate Matter

EPA announced on Sept. 21 that it is revising the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter (PM), addressing fine and coarse particle pollution.

According to the agency, the revisions to the 1997 PM standards are the strongest national air quality standards in the country's history.

"Regardless of the rhetoric, facts are facts -- EPA is delivering the most health protective national air standards in U.S. history to all 300 million Americans," said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson.

However, environmental groups state that the EPA approach continues to allow unhealthy levels that put millions of Americans at risk for asthma and heart attacks, as well as premature death.

"Medical groups including the American Lung Association, the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society and others have all called for tougher long-and short-term particle pollution levels. EPA's own science advisory board echoed these sentiments, yet EPA still refuses to adopt the stronger health safeguards that scientists say are needed," said Earthjustice attorney David Baron.

Industry officials also criticized EPA's action, claiming that the new air quality regulations will impose significant burdens and great costs on U.S. manufacturers. Arguing that the "scientific evidence does not show any significant association with health effects at ambient concentrations," the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) instead urged EPA to streamline existing air quality programs where possible.

"Changing the standard now, even while the current standard has yet to be implemented, would move the goalposts during the middle of the game, creating investment and business uncertainty," said NAM President John Engler. "Manufacturers already spend considerably more on pollution abatement than their global competitors, and imposing excessive and needless new regulations would do nothing to fulfill EPA's duty to protect environmental quality."

PM is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets in the air (i.e. dust, soot and particles too small to see). The standards address two categories of particle pollution: fine particles and inhalable coarse particles. Fine particles are 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller (PM2.5); inhalable coarse particles have diameters between 2.5 and 10 micrometers (PM10). Exposure to particle pollution is linked to a variety of significant health problems ranging from aggravated asthma to premature death in people with heart and lung disease.

The 2006 standards tighten the 24-hour fine particle standard from 65 micrograms of particles per cubic meter to 35 micrograms of particles per cubic meter of air. EPA also is retaining the current annual standard for long-term exposure to fine particles at 15 micrograms per cubic meter.

EPA is retaining the existing daily PM10 standard of 150 micrograms per cubic meter and revoking the annual coarse particle standard because the available evidence does not suggest an association between long-term exposure to coarse particles at current ambient levels and health effects, officials said.

For additional information on the new standards, go to http://epa.gov/pm/naaqsrev2006.html.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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