For everyone, especially those in this country with lung diseases like asthma and COPD, the seconds are ticking louder and louder. Right now, the Biden administration has an incredibly important opportunity to help protect lungs, but this window is closing fast.
Early this year, the EPA announced a long-awaited proposal to update and strengthen the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for fine particulate matter pollution (also called PM2.5 or particle pollution). We wrote a blog post earlier this year on the PM proposal and how they needed to quickly be strengthened and finalized. Now, the standards are nearly across the finish line – but it remains to be seen whether the final result is as strong as we’re calling for.
Why is it so Important to Update the PM2.5 Standards?
The current standards are far too weak to protect health sufficiently. The current annual standard, which focuses on the annual average levels of this pollutant, is 12 micrograms per cubic meter. The daily standard, which focuses on short-term spikes of particle pollution, is 35 micrograms per cubic meter.
But those standards are legally required to be based on health science, and the current science shows that they’re not protective enough. The overwhelming majority of EPA’s expert advisors, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, recommended the standards be strengthened much further, calling for levels as low as 8 micrograms per cubic meter for the annual standard and 25 micrograms per cubic meter for the 24-hour standard. Health organizations like the Lung Association have called for those levels to be tightened to 8 and 25 micrograms per cubic meter as well.
Despite this, EPA’s proposal did not include strengthening the current 24-hour standard and included a weaker range than we called for, between 9 and 10, for the annual standard. While we were disappointed that the proposal didn’t match the clear scientific consensus, we redoubled our efforts advocating for the federal government to lock in the strongest possible standards and in the process improve millions of lives.
On February 23 of this year, dozens of Lung Association staff and volunteers joined hundreds of other concerned members of the public publicly testifying for EPA to quickly finalize more protective standards for both short and long-term levels so that states and localities could begin implementing measures to lower their air pollution. On March 28, the Lung Association and many other medical and health organizations submitted written statements demonstrating the urgent necessity for stronger particle pollution standards.
Stronger PM2.5 Standards would Save Lives, Prevent Health Harms and are Extremely Popular
Since the spring we have continued to keep up the call for stronger particle pollutions standards to be finalized – and we’ve waited. And so has everyone whose health would benefit from stronger standards.
In addition to saving lives and preventing health harms, stronger PM2.5 standards are popular.
In March, the Lung Association polled 1,000 random voters nationwide and the results were undeniable. Across every category polled – including political party, race, age and moms vs. dads vs. non-parents – we saw support for strong particle pollution standards.
Why? Well, here’s a little bit more information on particle pollution: PM2.5 is a deadly but widespread pollutant. Exposure to particle pollution can cause worsened asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); cause heart attacks, strokes, heart disease and congestive heart failure; cause lung cancer; increase risk of low birth weight or infant mortality and impaired lung function in children; and even shorten your life.
Tightening the particle pollution standards would have a HUGE impact on health. From EPA’s own estimates, an 8 microgram per meter annual standard could result in avoiding 9,200 premature deaths per year and 580,000 lost workdays per year, as well as $95 billion in health benefits in 2032.
Why Does EPA Need to Finalize Stronger Particle Pollution Standards Right Now?
Since the comment period for these proposed standards closed in the spring, the health community has been waiting for EPA to strengthen and finalize these standards. However, we don’t take it for granted that they’ll make it across the finish line.
Unfortunately, EPA made a disappointing decision on a similar standard earlier this year. In August, EPA announced that they would scrap their current efforts to update the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ground-level ozone pollution and would begin the entire process again from scratch, adding significant delay.
It isn’t hard to imagine those who are opposing stronger particle pollution standards. Recently, for example, the National Association of Manufacturers urged EPA to withdraw its proposal to strengthen the standards. Unfortunately, opposition from industry to stronger standards is nothing new – it happens every time the standards are reviewed.
What Can You Do?
There is still time for the Biden administration to finalize strong, lifesaving PM2.5 standards, and hearing from people like you genuinely makes a difference and can help influence their actions.
Please consider signing our petition to the Biden administration. If you are a health professional, your trusted voice speaks volumes as part of our nation-wide letter urging the EPA to finish their work.
Join Harold Wimmer, President and CEO of the American Lung Association, in telling EPA Administrator Michael Regan:
“Health organizations and experts are united in their ask of EPA to finalize the national standards for particle pollution at 8 micrograms per cubic meter for the annual standard and 25 micrograms per cubic meter for the 24-hour standard. More protective standards are necessary to drive cleanup nationwide in communities that currently experience unhealthy levels of deadly particle pollution.”
Blog last updated: October 25, 2023