EPA report calls for tightening key air quality standard

As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reassesses a Trump administration decision not to enact a stricter key air quality standard, it says it has found evidence to support tightening it.

In a new draft policy assessment, the agency said that scientific evidence, air quality analyses, and the risk assessment for a type of pollution called fine particulate matter can “reasonably be viewed as calling into question the adequacy of the public health protection afforded by the … standards.” Particulate matter is the name for types of particles that can be found in the air and includes things such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke.

Fine particulate matter, sometimes called PM2.5, refers to especially small particles that can be inhaled and pose health risks when they get into peoples’ lungs. Exposure to this type of pollution can result in premature death for people with heart or lung disease, as well as heart attacks, worsened asthma, and decreased lung function.

The EPA’s new draft report specifically cites the potential for additional deaths under the current standards. It notes that the fine particulate matter risk assessment says that “the current primary PM2.5 standards could allow a substantial number of PM2.5-associated deaths in the U.S.” The Trump administration declined to tighten the fine particulate matter standards in December and argued that “the current standard is protective of public health.”

The Obama administration brought the standard up to its current level in 2012. But a similar agency report from January 2020 also questioned the effectiveness of the 2012 standard. It said that scientific evidence and air quality analyses “can reasonably be viewed as calling into question the adequacy of the public health protection afforded by the combination of the current … standards.” 

The latest report comes after the EPA said in June that it would reconsider the Trump administration’s decision. “Available scientific evidence and technical information indicate that the current standards may not be adequate to protect public health and welfare,” it said at the time. 




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