The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a final new health standard for sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions. The new rule for SO2 emissions is 75 parts per billion (ppb), which is designed to protect people from short-term exposure. Monitoring requirements for SO2 are also changing. Monitors will be placed where SO2 emissions impact populated areas. All new monitors required by the new rule will begin operating no later than January 1, 2013.
Short-term exposure to SO2 mainly comes from power plants (coal) and industrial facilities. Fossil fuel combustion at power plants accounts for 73 percent of all SO2 emissions, and other industrial facilities account for 20 percent, according to the EPA. Smaller sources of SO2 emissions include extracting metal from ore, and the burning of high sulfur containing fuels by trains, large ships and non-road equipment.
Asthma is aggravated by SO2 exposure, and SO2 exposure also causes other respiratory problems. Children and elderly people are also vulnerable to effects of SO2.
The EPA estimates that the health benefits from the rule will save between $13 billion and $33 billion a year; prevent 2,300 to 5,900 premature deaths and 54,000 asthma attacks a year.
The EPA will address the secondary standard, protecting the public welfare, including the environment, in a separate review which will be completed by 2012.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, “Moving to a one-hour standard and monitoring in the areas with the highest SO2 levels is the most efficient and effective way to protect against sulfur dioxide pollution in the air we breathe.” Jackson added that SO2 is among other pollutants the EPA has been able to “significantly reduce through the Clean Air Act.” She pointed out that the new standard for SO2 is “the first in almost 40 years.”
Barbara Freese, a coal expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) commented on the new rule. “There is a lot of talk about the need to curb our dependence on oil, but we have to address our coal habit, too. Unlike oil and coal, cleaner forms of energy — wind, solar and geothermal — and energy efficiency are good for public health and the environment because they emit relatively little air pollution.”
Freese pointed out that the new rule can help the U.S. “transition to a cleaner energy economy. However, she also said that Congress needs to pass a comprehensive clean energy bill that holds polluters accountable for their global warming emissions and dramatically increases the use energy efficiency and renewable energy.”