EPA Acts to Protect Millions of Americans from Soot Pollution

February 7, 2024
Sharyn Stein, 202-905-5718, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – February 7, 2024) The Environmental Protection Agency today announced an updated, stronger national health standard for particulate matter – a potentially deadly air pollutant more commonly known as soot.

“EPA’s action today is a vitally important step toward cleaner and healthier air for everyone,” said Peter Zalzal, Associate Vice President for Clean Air Strategies at Environmental Defense Fund, which urged EPA to strengthen the soot standards. “EPA’s final standards will save thousands of lives, help advance environmental justice, and allow us all to breathe a little easier.”

Soot is closely linked to reduced lung development in children, higher rates of asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, cancer, and early deaths. A 2023 analysis by Industrial Economics for EDF found that soot is responsible for more than 100,000 premature deaths each year.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to review the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter pollution every five years, and to consider new scientific evidence related to the health impacts of soot. However, in 2020, the prior administration chose to retain the inadequate standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter that was in effect – in spite of reams of scientific evidence showing that a more protective standard was needed.

Today the Biden EPA announced it will strengthen the soot standard to 9 micrograms per cubic meter, a move that will protect the health of millions of Americans and save thousands of lives each year, and also announced improvements to strengthen monitoring for particulate matter pollution.

“The scientific support for stronger soot standards is overwhelming,” said EDF Senior Health Scientist Ananya Roy. “Our research affirms this rule will have significant health benefits for all Americans, particularly in communities of color and low-wealth neighborhoods. EPA’s action today will avoid thousands of cases of heart attacks and asthma, emergency room visits, hospitalizations and premature deaths a year."

The more protective soot standards are especially vital for those communities that have long borne the heaviest burden from air pollution. Black Americans 65 and older are three times more likely to die from exposure to soot than white Americans over 65, and people experiencing poverty are 49% more likely to live in areas that exceed the 12 micrograms per cubic meter soot standard. 

Common-sense solutions are readily available and can dramatically reduce soot from its sources, which include power plant smokestacks, vehicle tailpipes, and industrial sites. For example, EPA’s final emissions standards for new cars and passenger trucks and for new heavy-duty trucks and buses, both of which are expected to be released in the next few months, will help dramatically reduce soot and other harmful pollution while also saving people money and – with the historic U.S. investments in the Inflation Reduction Act – creating high-quality jobs.

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