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EPA Proposes New Cuts on Levels of Soot in Air

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, June 15 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing new standards to regulate fine particle air pollution, including soot, officials announced Friday.

The new standards will call for a reduction in fine particle pollution from the current 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air to 12 to 13 micrograms.

The EPA's move comes in response to a court order that required the agency to update its regulations based on the best science available.

The agency is calling the new standards a victory for public health.

"As a result of these rules, we will be saving hundreds of thousands of lives and prevent significant amounts of health consequences including premature death," Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator in EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, said during a press conference Friday.

"The good news about today's action is that we are already on the path for 99 percent of U.S. counties to meet the standards without the need for additional state or local action," she added.

The new standard will have to be met by 2020 and will affect diesel engines, power plants and industrial plants among other producers of fine particle pollution, McCarthy said.

Fine particle pollution can reach deep into the lungs and has been tied to premature death, heart attacks and strokes.

In addition soot particles, known to scientists as "PM2.5," also can cause bronchitis and worsen childhood asthma, the agency notes.

This new standard reflects the findings of many studies that show harmful health effects from even low concentrations of fine particle pollution, the agency says.

This reduction in fine particle pollution is expected to have health benefits as well as financial benefits by cutting health care costs, the agency contends.

"Depending on the final standard, estimated benefits will range from $88 million a year, with estimated costs of implementation as low as $2.9 million, to $5.9 billion in annual benefits with a cost of $69 million -- a return ranging from $30 to $86 for every dollar invested in pollution control," the EPA projects.

The proposed standard is open for public comment for the next 63 days with the final standard being issued by Dec. 14.

Commenting on the EPA's announcement. John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in statement that, "updating these standards will protect us from the tiniest particles that can cause the biggest health problems."

"By limiting the smoke, soot, metals and other pollution our lungs and hearts absorb, EPA is protecting all of us from asthma attacks, lung cancer, heart disease and premature deaths," he said.

"This a tremendous win for our health and the environment that could only be achieved by following the best science and upholding the Clean Air Act," Walke added.

More information

For more information on air pollution, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

SOURCES: June 15, 2012, press conference with: Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator, Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; June 15, 2012, statement, Natural Resources Defense Council

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