by Molly Rauch
Recently the EPA finally released proposed revisions of its National Ambient Air Quality Standard for particle pollution. Fine particles, also known as soot, come from vehicle emissions, power plants, and fires (think grills, fireplaces, and wood stoves, as well as forest fires). This microscopic airborne pollution lodges deep in the lungs. The particles are too small, and get too deep, to be easily expelled through breathing, which is one reason they cause so much health damage.
EPA’s long-awaited rule, produced by a court decision after 15 years of foot-dragging by several administrations, would decrease the allowable limit of fine particles in the air from an annual average of 15 micrograms per square meter to between 12 and 13 micrograms per square meter.
As a mom, I am relieved and happy to support this rule. Here’s why:
1. Soot shortens lives
Exposure to fine particle pollution at the levels found in many areas of the U.S. causes a whole slew of health problems related to the heart and lungs, such as heart attacks. It’s been linked to stroke. It also causes premature death, which means that people exposed to this pollution die sooner than people exposed to less of it, no matter what the causes. In other words, this stuff literally takes months off lives.
2. Soot harms children
Soot increases death in young people as well as old people. Soot exposure has been linked to infant deaths from SIDS as well as infant mortality. This kind of pollution also triggers asthma attacks, causes respiratory symptoms such as coughing, and decreases lung function. For the 9% of children in our country already suffering from asthma, soot makes it worse. And it hinders normal lung development.
3. Near-Roadway Monitors Matter
There is increasing evidence that major roadways create zones of highly polluted air that extend 300-500 meters from the road. This pollution includes large amounts of fine particle pollution from cars and light trucks as well as from diesel engines.
Our national air monitoring system, a network of hundreds of monitors around the country, currently does not measure fine particle pollution near roads. This is a dangerous gap in our monitoring system. Not only do many people use these roads (that’s why they are called “major roadways”), but many also live and work in these areas. The proposed rule would move upwards of 50 monitors to these highly polluted near-roadway zones, thus providing a better picture of how most Americans are exposed to fine particle pollution.
4. The Science is Definitive
Opponents of the new rule claim that there is scientific uncertainty about this standard. This is simply propaganda – and entirely misleading. Scientists have conducted many large studies of soot pollution over long periods of time. By many, I mean on the order of thousands, finding generally consistent results, according to Janice Nolen of the American Lung Association. When fossil fuel executives tell us that the jury is still out on whether we need standards as low as EPA proposed, please have a listen to the gold coins jingling in their pockets. They want a free pass to poison our children’s bodies; they don’t want to invest in better equipment for their companies. But the health of Americans is more valuable, and the science supports these new standards.
5. The Standards Should Follow the Science
We need accurate standards that tell us what healthy air really is, not what the petroleum industry wants it to be. The standards set by the EPA should reflect the best available science on the health effects of clean air. The standards themselves should not be set with the cost of compliance in mind.
Otherwise, it would be like having your doctor diagnose your illness based on what it will cost you to treat it. It may be cheaper to treat Strep throat instead of Lyme Disease, but if you have Lyme Disease you’re going to want to treat that, not Strep – and costs are going to balloon over the long haul if you have the wrong diagnosis.
In the same way, communities need to know what they are aiming for when they try to ensure that their air is healthy to breathe. Indeed, law prohibits the EPA from considering the costs of compliance when setting this and similar air pollution standards. I think that’s an important safeguard of EPA rulemaking, and so did the Supreme Court.
The EPA is now taking public comment on their proposed soot standard. Stay tuned to Moms Clean Air Force for information about opportunities to share your view with EPA online and in person at upcoming public hearings in Philadelphia and Sacramento. It will be an opportunity to tell EPA that we want to know what the science tells us, not what the fossil fuel industry wants to hear, about healthy air. Moms Clean Air Force will be there. I hope you’ll join us.
Photo credit: Biofriendly