American Lung Association Welcomes Proposed Sulfur Dioxide Health Standard

Statement of Charles D. Connor, American Lung Association President and CEO

(November 17, 2009)

Today 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.  

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson proposed a new national air quality standard to limit one-hour levels of sulfur dioxide gas, which would offer more protection from short spikes in SO2 than the current annual or 24-hour standards provide.  This standard targets the repeated spikes of this dangerous gas that threaten the health of millions. We at the American Lung Association applaud her recommendation. 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 the most protective level, 50 parts per billion, under consideration.

The American Lung Association had taken legal steps in the past to push EPA to protect against these spikes in sulfur dioxide pollution, so we are pleased that EPA has now begun to do so.  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.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a gas composed of sulfur and oxygen. Spikes in SO2 occur all too frequently, particularly in areas near coal-fired power plants. 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.

We urge EPA to adopt a tighter one-hour standard, and to retain its existing annual standard as well.