United States EPA to tackle PM2.5 particles after court pressure

US EPA proposes tighter standards for PM2.5 matter after court action by 11 states.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has published proposals for new air quality standards in the wake of legal pressure from 11 American states which challenged the Agency in court earlier this year.

The new standards will cover “Harmful soot pollution” and the EPA said that by 2020 nearly all (99%) of U.S. counties were projected to meet the proposed standards without any additional actions.

The EPA is to introduce new measures to control PM2.5 particles

The Washington-based EPA said on Friday (June 15 2012) that in response to a court order it proposed updates to its national air quality standards for harmful fine particle pollution, including soot (known as PM2.5). After consultation, the final standards are due to be introduced by December 14, 2012.The Agency explained that PM2.5s are microscopic particles which can penetrate deep into the lungs and have been linked to a wide range of serious health effects, including premature death, heart attacks, and strokes, as well as acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma among children.A federal court ruling had required EPA to update the standard based “on best available science”. The Agency said: “Today’s proposal, which meets that requirement, builds on smart steps already taken by the EPA to slash dangerous pollution in communities across the country. Thanks to these steps, 99 percent of U.S. counties are projected to meet the proposed standard without any additional action.”

EPA’s proposal would strengthen the annual health standard for harmful fine particle pollution (PM2.5) to a level within a range of 13 micrograms per cubic meter to 12 micrograms per cubic meter. The current annual standard is 15 micrograms per cubic meter. The proposal has zero effect on the existing daily standard for fine particles or the existing daily standard for coarse particles (PM10), both of which would remain unchanged.

The six areas which will still not pass the regulations by 2020 include two in California -San Bernardino and Riverside counties; the others are Wayne County in Michigan; Jefferson County, Alabama; Lincoln County, Montana; and Santa Cruz County, Arizona


The economics of the proposed topic of the changes proved an immediate issue of debate with the Agency claiming positive benefits: “Meanwhile, because reductions in fine particle pollution have direct health benefits including decreased mortality rates, fewer incidents of heart attacks, strokes, and childhood asthma, these standards have major economic benefits with comparatively low costs.

“Depending on the final level of the standard, estimated benefits will range from $88 million a year, with estimated costs of implementation as low as $2.9 million, to $5.9 billion in annual benefits with a cost of $69 million — a return ranging from $30 to $86 for every dollar invested in pollution control. While EPA cannot consider costs in selecting a standard under the Clean Air Act, those costs are estimated as part of the careful analysis undertaken for all significant regulations, as required by Executive Order 13563 issued by President Obama in January 2011.”

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review its standards for particle pollution every five years to determine whether the standards should be revised. The law requires the agency to ensure the standards are “requisite to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety” and “requisite to protect the public welfare.”

A federal court ordered EPA to sign the proposed particle pollution standards by June 14, 2012, because the agency did not meet its five-year legal deadline for reviewing the standards.


Taking a stance critical of the EPA, the  American Petroleum Institute, warned that the costs of the programme could be unjustified.  API Director of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Howard Feldman said that EPA’s particle standards proposal “failed to include all options to improve air quality and could hamper investments in America’s energy future and the U.S. economy”.

Mr Feldman continued:  “Air quality will continue to improve dramatically under the current government standards, but EPA’s proposal could substantially increase costs to states, municipalities, businesses and ultimately consumers without justified benefits. We are concerned that it could come at a significant economic cost and lost investments and limit our ability to produce the energy our nation needs.

“EPA based its proposal on a faulty scientific analysis: important scientific data have been ignored and other purported findings have been misinterpreted. A more objective review of the science would conclude that the current standards should be considered among the regulatory options to continue improving air quality.

Non-investment warning

“A more stringent rule will discourage economic investment in counties that fail to meet new federal standards. It’s in our interest to have both clean air and a vibrant domestic economy. However, the new standards would put many regions out of attainment, and companies considering a place to build a plant or refinery could perceive non-attainment as non-investment.”

The API said that the Agency had reported that between 2000 and 2010, concentrations of PM 2.5 fell by 27 percent, according to EPA. The API added: “Three-fourths of Americans today live in areas where air quality meets today’s standards, and this trend will continue.

Related links

US Environmental Protection Agency

American Petroleum Institute



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