Sunday, February 11, 2024

EPA tightens standard for Particulates

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (EPA)  Michael S. Regan announced last week that the EPA had finalized strengthening the primary annual PM2.5 standard by lowering the level from 12.0 μg/m3 to 9.0 μg/m3. Fine particle pollution PM 2.5, also known as soot lodges in the lungs which can aggravate other conditions both immediately and long term –cutting months off of lives. According to the EPA, the updated standard will prevent 800,000 cases of asthma, 4,500 premature deaths, and 290,000 lost workdays by 2032. Saying in the press release:

“This final air quality standard will save lives and make all people healthier, especially within America’s most vulnerable and overburdened communities,” said EPA Administrator Regan. “Cleaner air means that our children have brighter futures, and people can live more productive and active lives, improving our ability to grow and develop as a nation. EPA looks forward to continuing our decades of success in working with states, counties, Tribes, and industry to ensure this critical health standard is implemented effectively to improve the long-term health and productivity of our nation.” 

While lowering the annual standard to 9.0 μg/m3 EPA decided to keep the current 24 h standard of 35 μg/m3, saying it didn’t see sufficient evidence to revise it. EPA also retained the current primary 24-hour standard for PM10, which provides protection against coarse particles. EPA is also not changing the secondary (welfare-based) standards for fine particles and coarse particles at this time.

Air pollution in the form of fine particles with diameters smaller than 2.5 microns, called PM 2.5, lodge in the lungs which can aggravate other conditions both immediately and long term –cutting months off of lives. This fine particulate matter can have immediate health impacts: itchy, watery eyes, increased respiratory symptoms such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing and aggravated asthma. Research has connected long term health effects to both short-term and long-term exposure to particulate pollution.

PM 2.5 is either directly emitted or formed in the atmosphere. Directly-emitted particles come from a variety of sources such as cars, trucks, buses, industrial facilities, coal power plants, diesel engines, construction sites, tilled fields, unpaved roads, stone crushing, and burning of wood and the vast forest fires. Other particles are formed indirectly when gases produced by fossil fuel combustion react with sunlight and water vapor. Combustion from motor vehicles, diesel generators, power plants, and refineries emit particles directly and emit precursor pollutants that form secondary particulates. 

from EPA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, requires states to monitor air quality and ensure that it meets minimum air quality standards. The US EPA has established both annual and 24-hour PM2.5 air quality standards (as well as standards for other pollutants). Since 2000 on average PM2.5 pollution has decreased as you can see in the chart above. However, there are still significant locations where the current air quality goal has not been met. The dark green areas in the map are areas of non-compliance with the current standard. Virginia is in compliance, and hopefully will remain so even with the proliferation of diesel backup generators for the data centers.

from EPA- dark green are the non-attainment areas

According to their press release: “Due to the efforts that states, Tribes, industry, communities, and EPA have already taken to reduce dangerous pollution in communities across the country, 99% of U.S. counties are projected to meet the more protective standard in 2032, likely the earliest year that states would need to meet the revised standard.”

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