EPA Proposes New Standard for Air Pollutant

(November 17, 2009)

On November 16, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new limits on the toxic air pollutant sulfur dioxide in the outdoor air.  This health standard has not been revised since 1971.  The American Lung Association welcomes this long overdue action and urges EPA to set a standard at a level that truly protects public health.  Inhaling sulfur dioxide (SO2) makes it hard for people with asthma to breathe. High levels of SO2 force people to the emergency room and to hospitals because they have trouble breathing.  Volunteers from the Lung Association will urge EPA to strengthen the standard at the public hearing in Atlanta, GA on January 5, 2010. The proposed new air quality standard targets the repeated spikes of this dangerous gas that threaten the health of millions.  It would limit the amount of SO2 anyone could be exposed to over a one-hour period, which would offer more protection from short spikes in SO2 than the current annual or 24-hour standards provide.  If EPA adopts a standard that protects the health of the public, communities with the highest SO2 levels will have to clean up their pollution.  The American Lung Association recommends EPA adopt a standard of 50 parts per billion - the most protective level under consideration. 

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a gas composed of sulfur and oxygen. SO2 forms when sulfur-containing fuel such as coal, oil, or diesel is burned.  Sulfur dioxide also converts in the atmosphere to sulfates, a prime component of fine particle pollution in the eastern U.S.  Spikes in SO2 occur all too frequently, particularly in areas near coal-fired power plants.

The Lung Association has taken legal steps in the past to push EPA to protect against these spikes in sulfur dioxide pollution.  Sources, such as coal-fired power plants, industrial facilities, and ports, which pollute the air in the communities where they operate need to be cleaned up.  Cleaner, healthier air will benefit the lives and health of millions of people.

We urge EPA to adopt a tighter one-hour standard, and to retain its existing annual standard as well. EPA will make its final decision on the new standard by June 2, 2010.

Related Links:

Healthy Air Outdoors
Impacts on Your Health
American Lung Association State of the Air Report
Public Policy Agend