Though late, according to the law, in doing so by almost six years*, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is finally proposing an update to the federal air quality standard for fine particle pollution – a long-awaited step to reduce deadly air pollution.
The current standard, which has been in place for more than a decade, limits the average annual amount of fine particle pollution to 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The EPA is proposing reducing that limit to 9 to 10 micrograms, though it will be taking public comment on a range as low as 8 and as high as 11 migrograms per cubic meter**. The final standard will be somewhere in that range.
Fine particulate matter – called PM2.5 – pollutes outdoor air by the burning of fossil fuels like gasoline, diesel and oil, as well as wood. It is the tiniest pollutant yet among the most dangerous. When inhaled, it travels deep into lung tissue, where it can enter the bloodstream and can contribute to cardiovascular disease, asthma and other respiratory illnesses.***
The EPA’s new proposed rule will undergo a public comment period and is expected to be finalized later this year. Stay tuned for when the public commentary period is announced.
*The EPA is required by law to update the standards for fine particulate pollution every five years and to do so according to the latest available science. The last time the standards were updated was under the Obama administration in 2012 when they were lowered from 15 to 12 micrograms per cubic meter.
**Given the significant health risk, the World Health Organization in 2021 recommended that environmental agencies cut the allowable limit to 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air.
***In matters of health equity and environmental justice, black and brown communities are disproportionately exposed to particulate matter coming from industrial facilities and highways.