The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working on a new rule aimed at improving air quality across America. The proposal seeks to reduce the amount of fine particle pollution, also known as soot, in the air. Fine particles can be inhaled deeply into the lungs and lead to serious health problems such as heart and lung disease, even resulting in premature death.
Sources of fine particle pollution include vehicle exhaust, power plant emissions, and industrial processes. Neighborhoods close to industrial areas may have higher concentrations of fine particulate matter in the air, but air quality monitoring has not been mandated in such communities until now.
The proposed rule establishes a monitoring requirement for the first time, particularly in at-risk communities, as per Leah Kelly, senior attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project. “That air quality data can be captured in some of these communities. They’re referred to as at-risk communities in the regulation. But I think that’s a particularly helpful piece of the rule,” said Kelly.
Assessing the health risks to local communities is dependent on the placement of air quality monitors. In 2015, the Environmental Integrity Project installed regulatory-grade air quality monitors in the Curtis Bay neighborhood in South Baltimore. Despite being an industrialized community, the closest state air monitor at the time was over four miles away. The results showed that residents of Curtis Bay were exposed to worse air quality than more distant monitors were reporting.
“We did measure consistently higher levels of fine particles than the official monitors,” said Kelly. “We didn’t have an extensively robust data set, but we thought that our results indicated support for our theory, which was that the community is subject to higher pollution levels.”
The EPA said the current particulate matter standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air is too high to protect public health. The proposed rule seeks to lower the standard to a level between nine and 10 micrograms per cubic meter. Kelly noted that studies have shown a direct correlation between the amount of particulate matter in the air and health.
“Multiple studies have shown that there’s approximately a linear relationship between exposure to fine particles and these adverse health effects,” stressed Kelly.
The EPA is accepting public comments on the new standard until Tuesday. This proposal could have significant implications for public health across America, especially in at-risk communities. By reducing the amount of fine particle pollution in the air and mandating air quality monitoring in communities most affected by it, the EPA is taking a crucial step in the right direction towards cleaner, healthier air for all.