Against the recommendations of a long list of science and health organizations—not to mention two of its own scientific advisory committees—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced last week it would leave in place its 1997 standards for annual exposure to particulate pollution (soot generated from coal-fired power plants, industrial facilities and vehicles), while only moderately strengthening its daily exposure soot standard.
Researchers from the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have identified more than 2,000 peer-reviewed studies conducted since 1997 collectively showing that the standards set then have failed to adequately protect public health. The group argues that by not strengthening the standards significantly, EPA is putting as many as 75 million Americans with respiratory and/or heart troubles at risk.
"The EPA is more interested in protecting the special interests of industrial polluters and automakers than protecting American citizens from asthma, strokes, heart attacks and lung disease," says John Walke, director of the Clean Air Program for NRDC. Environmental Defense, the American Lung Association and the American Medical Association, among others, join NRDC in criticizing EPA’s failure to enact tougher standards.
EPA officials say the 1997 annual soot standard remains adequate, while the new, stronger standard for daily soot exposure will cut the allowable particulate emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes in half. The agency claims the health benefits from this tougher standard will range from $9 billion to $75 billion a year.