Proposed EPA Air Quality Update Not Good Enough, Groups Say

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A new air quality standard from the federal government does not go far enough to protect the public, advocates said.

For the first time in a decade, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed updating the standard for soot, fine particulate matter linked to asthma, heart disease and even early death. The proposal brings the annual standard down from 12 micrograms per cubic meter to a level between nine and 10. The daily level remains the same at 35 micrograms.

Ross Macfarlane, a member of the Sierra Club’s board of directors based in Seattle, said he’s glad the EPA is reviewing this but needs to go further.

“We’re asking them to listen to their own science advisers, to the many community and environmental groups who testified and to ensure that they’re setting a standard that really is protective of public health and the environment,” Macfarlane explained.

Opponents to updating the standard in the manufacturing industry said they are already leading the way to improve air quality and do not need more rules from the EPA. The agency is holding public hearings on the changes this week and accepting public comment until March 28.

According to the EPA analysis, adopting their standard could save up to 20,000 lives per year. It finds another 4,200 lives could be saved if the standard were eight micrograms per cubic meter.

Patrick Drupp, director of climate policy for the Sierra Club, said soot pollution is a big issue across the country.

“Over 63 million Americans live with unhealthy particle pollution spikes, and 20 million live with dangerous levels of particle pollution year-round,” Drupp reported. “It’s not a small amount of people who are impacted by this.”

Macfarlane noted highways and industrial facilities are hot spots for particulate matter in Washington state. He added the sites are located near marginalized communities, perpetuating environmental injustice.

“The continued legacy of historical practices such as redlining, concentrating minority and poor populations into certain parts of the community, and then imposing industrial and highway development onto those communities that didn’t have the political power to push back,” Macfarlane pointed out.

Featured photo: Highways are hot spots for soot, fine particulate matter which has major effects on people’s health. (Naris Dorndeelers/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.

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