We’ll breathe easier with EPA’s new soot rules

To the editor:

The American Lung Association of the Northeast applauds the Obama Administration’s decision to set a much stronger national air quality standard for particulate matter (soot), one of the nation’s most lethal air pollutants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set limits on airborne microscopic particles, following the findings by independent scientists that this pollutant causes premature death at levels well below what is currently considered safe.

These new standards are long overdue and could save hundreds of thousands of lives and prevent countless visits to the emergency room. Our State of the Air 2012 report, which measures how well current standards protect public health, shows far too many people live in areas where soot pollution threatens their health. The Clean Air Act was enacted to ensure that everyone breathes clean and healthy air and the new standards are a big step in the right direction.

Particulate matter, also known as particle pollution or soot, is a mixture of liquid droplets and solid particles made of toxic chemicals, metals and smoke. These particles are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and even into the bloodstream, leading to tens of thousands of premature deaths, heart attacks and asthma attacks every year.  Particles come from wide-ranging sources, including coal-fired power plants, industrial boilers, diesel vehicles and woodstoves.

The EPA tightened the limit, called the national ambient air quality standards, for the annual average level of fine particulate matter to 12 micrograms per cubic meter from the outdated standard set in 1997 of 15 micrograms.  EPA made no changes to the 24-hour fine particle standard or the coarse particle standard despite evidence that both standards need strengthening.

The American Lung Association’s free State of the Air smartphone app tracks current air quality conditions and next-day air quality forecasts for particle pollution and other widespread air pollutants. This tool, available for Apple and Android, can be a valuable resource for not only people living with lung diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but all who are concerned with the quality of air they are breathing. The app is available for download at www.lung.org/stateoftheairapp<file:///C:/Users/edimartino/Documents/Letterheads/www.lung.org/stateoftheairapp>.

Jeff Seyler

President and CEO, American Lung Association of the Northeast.

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