New Standards Bring Cleaner Air to You

(June 20, 2012)

Particle pollution – or “soot” – is one of the most common and dangerous form of air pollution. Prompted by legal action by the American Lung Association and others, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally proposed updated clean air standards for particle pollution. Strengthening these standards to levels that the law requires will help prevent thousands of premature deaths in the U.S. each year.

New standards delay ended

The proposed standards, announced on Friday, June 15, would set the annual average standard for fine particles (PM 2.5) at either 12 or 13 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The current annual standard, set in 1997, allows 15 micrograms per cubic meter.  EPA also proposed to leave unchanged the existing short-term, or 24-hour standard, of 35 micrograms per cubic meter set in 2006.

The EPA had failed to complete its required review of the standards, leading the American Lung Association and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) to take legal action filed by Earthjustice that pushes EPA to adopt new standards that comply with the requirements of the Clean Air Act and better protect our health. The Clean Air Act requires that the EPA review the standards every the five years to make sure that the standard is based on the most current science.

Although the new proposed standards are an improvement over the old standards (already known not to protect our health) the American Lung Association and its health partners urge the EPA to set the standard at 11 micrograms per cubic meter, a level that will do much more to reduce illness and save lives. The Lung Association and its partners also urge the EPA to strengthen the 24-hour standard to 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

The EPA will begin taking public comment that will help it decide the final rule, before it goes into effect  by no later than December 14, 2012. The EPA will listen to the public at hearings in Philadelphia and Sacramento, Cal., in July at dates and locations to be announced shortly. You can speak up for cleaner air and help ensure that the EPA sets these new limits at amounts that truly protect our health. Visit for updates and instructions on how you can help.

Soot and sickness

Inhaling particle pollution can cause premature death, asthma attacks, heart attacks and stroke. Newer evidence warns that particle pollution may cause damage to the developmental and reproductive systems, and even cancer.

Particle pollution consists of a microscopic mixture of smoke, liquid droplets, and solid metal particles which are released into the air by coal plants, factories, and even diesel vehicle exhaust. These pollution particles in the air are small enough to penetrate into the lungs and the bloodstream, thereby making it one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution. For the most recent information on particle pollution in your community, as well as more information on the health effects of particle pollution, check out the American Lung Association State of the Air® 2012 report.

Lung Association Board Chair Dr. Albert Rizzo, M.D., warns, “Particle pollution kills – the science is clear, and overwhelming evidence shows that particle pollution at levels currently labeled as officially ‘safe’ causes heart attacks, strokes, and asthma attacks.”  He continued, saying, “The Clean Air Act gives the American public the truth about pollution that threatens their lives and health.”

Cutting down on the soot we breathe will have a real impact on the lives of thousands of Americans. Our 2011 report Sick of Soot: How the EPA Can Save Lives By Clean Up Fine Particle Pollution found that the EPA’s new standards would prevent:

  • 35,700 premature deaths
  • 2,350 heart attacks
  • 23,290 visits to the hospital and emergency room
  • 1.4 million cases of aggravated asthma, and
  • 2.7 million days of missed work or school due to air pollution-caused ailments.

Join our Fight for Air

The American Lung Association is working to rid our air of soot, smog and all types of pollution that can threaten our health and shorten our lives. Learn more about our fight, and find out how you can help. Together, we can fight for healthier air for all of us, and for future generations.