EPA refuses to strengthen protections from particulate pollution

Every 5 years, the Environmental Protection Agency is required to conduct a scientific assessment of the adequacy of our nationwide health-based standards for deadly air pollutants like fine particulate matter (“PM2.5”). When EPA reassesses a national standard, it is required to set a standard based only on the best available health science. The Agency must ensure the standard protects public health with an adequate margin of safety and protects vulnerable populations like children, older adults, people with preexisting heart and lung diseases and those of lower socioeconomic status.

What is particulate pollution?

Particulate pollution is made up of small toxic airborne particles like dust, soot, and tiny particles of liquids, or aerosols. Most particulate pollution is from fossil fuel combustion from the transportation sector, power generation, and oil and gas production. The tiny particles penetrate deep into the lungs and cause a variety of health effects. There is consistent scientific evidence that particulate pollution is linked with hospital admissions, emergency room visits, as well as early death; due to lung disease, heart attacks, strokes, asthma and cancer. This pollution is also particularly dangerous for children – studies show that PM₂.₅ exposure can impair fetal growth and childhood lung development.

EPA’s Inadequate Proposal

Every year exposure to PM2.5 causes tens of thousands of premature deaths in America. In 2017 it was attributed to cause 85,000 deaths.

EPA has proposed to retain the outdated standard for particulate pollution, set in 2012, despite the fact that the Agency’s new policy assessment demonstrates that the current standard is inadequate to protect public health and the wealth of scientific evidence that exposure to particulate pollution below the current standard is still dangerous.

EPA’s own analysis that simulated meeting the current standards in 47 urban areas found that:

  • Long-term PM2.5 exposures are associated with as many as 52,100 premature deaths (all-cause), including 16,800 ischemic heart disease deaths) and 3,950 lung cancer deaths.
  • These account for 3-9% of all-cause, 13-14% of ischemic heart disease deaths, and 9% of lung cancer mortality in these areas, respectively.

The Trump Administration rushed the scientific review process in an effort to minimize the scientific evidence that supports tightening these life-saving protections—and even canceled scheduled meetings to discuss this evidence with public health and environmental groups. The administration also dismissed the scientists that form EPA’s expert particulate matter subcommittee, which had the epidemiological expertise needed to review the standard, preventing a robust evaluation of the relevant health science.

Likewise, the administration’s selection of an industry lobbyist Tony Cox to chair EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee – the key independent scientific advisory committee charged with advising EPA on the standards – raised red flags because Cox lacked key scientific credentials and had a potential financial conflict of interest.

Make your voice heard

EPA is now accepting public comments on this proposal including hosting a virtual public hearing to accept oral testimony. Let the Trump administration know you the best way to protect the American public is a more protective standard based on the best science.