Houston can breathe a bit easier now



Houston Exceeds Health Standards For Particulate Matter: More Work Ahead

By ELENA CRAFT, PHD | BIO | Published: 


Texans can breathe a bit easier now.

The Environmental Protection Agency today released updated standards for fine particulate matter (PM2.5), often referred to as “soot” (although it actually comprises a broader array of fine particles).  Fine particulate pollution in the air we breathe — some of it directly emitted from cars and trucks, some of it resulting from factories and electric power plants hundreds of miles upwind – can lodge in the lungs and cause a variety of respiratory and pulmonary disease, especially in children and seniors.

EDF praised the move, which will help secure healthy air for millions of Americans, including those in Houston where existing soot levels already exceed the new limits.

The Houston Chronicle writes that the new standards could “require cleaner operations along the Ship Channel” and slow expansion for some industrial operations.

The new annual standard will be 12 micrograms per cubic meter, helping to protect those especially vulnerable to air pollution, including the one in 11 U.S. children with asthma. Soot is one of the deadliest types of air pollution. It can cause heart attacks, asthma attacks, and even premature death. Recent studies have found a possible association with autism as well.

While the new standard was released today, Houston will have some time to implement pollution control measures in advance of a non-attainment designation, which, if to happen, would likely be in late 2014.

Thus, the region has an opportunity to take action now. EDF is working to reduce emissions for areas near the Port of Houston, where particulate matter concentrations are the highest in the region. Recommendations that we’ve made to the port include paving of industrial park east and use of shorepower for ships that call on the port, especially the new cruise lines that plan to call on the port. We’ve also called upon the port to establish more rigorous pollution controls across all sectors of operations as part of their Clean Air Strategy Plan. Stay tuned for more updates on our efforts to work with the port and regional stakeholders to reduce harmful fine particles.

Other leading health and environmental groups issued strong support of the new standards today:

·         A letter signed by over 650 health and medical professionals stated: Fine particulate air pollution is cutting short the lives of tens of thousands of Americans each year. Studies have shown fine particulate air pollution is shortening lives by up to six months… Numerous, long-term multi-city studies have shown clear evidence of premature death, cardiovascular and respiratory harm as well as reproductive and developmental harm at contemporary concentrations far below the level of the current standard. Infants, children and teenagers are especially sensitive, as are the elderly, and people with cardiovascular disease, lung disease, or diabetes. The new EPA standards should be set at levels that will protect these sensitive people with an adequate margin of safety, as required by the Clean Air Act.

·         Union of Concerned Scientists: It is encouraging to see the agency following the Clean Air Act, especially in the face of strong industry pressure to ignore science again. The law is clear: the Clean Air Act requires air pollution standards to be based solely on the best available science regarding what is protective of health. Other factors, such as costs, can be considered when the standards are implemented. But it is science that should determine what level of pollution is safe for humans.

·         American Lung Association: We know clearly that particle pollution is harmful at levels well below those previously deemed to be safe. Particle pollution causes premature deaths and illness, threatening the millions of Americans who breathe high levels of it," explained Norman H. Edelman, MD, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association. "By setting a more protective standard, the EPA is stating that we as a nation must protect the health of the public by cleaning up even more of this lethal pollutant. Reducing particle pollution will prevent heart attacks and asthma attacks, and will keep children out of the emergency room and hospitals. It will save lives."

·         Natural Resources Defense Council: From President Frances Beinecke: The Clean Air Act grants Americans the right to clean air. The updated soot standards help deliver that. Now the administration should build on this success and issue carbon limits. Together, these safeguards would protect the health and well-being of millions of Americans.

·         Dr. Christopher Lillis, doctor of internal medicine and board member of Doctors for America: As a health professional, I commend the Environmental Protection Agency for finalizing an important rule that will result in innumerable benefits to public health. I have seen countless patients with emphysema and asthma whose health conditions have worsened due to soot pollution in our atmosphere. Reducing soot pollution also reduces tens of thousands of heart attacks. Today’s announcement is a breath of fresh air for doctors, asthma patients, and their loved ones.

·         Sierra Club: From Executive Director Michael Brune: The Sierra Club applauds the Environmental Protection Agency for issuing these life-saving clean air standards to protect Americans from life-threatening air pollution. Pollution kills – and it also costs Americans billions of dollars each year.  The EPA’s soot safeguards will keep dangerous metals and chemicals out of the air we breathe to save thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

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EPA cracks down on soot pollution

Wendy Koch, USA TODAY 5:10p.m. EST December 14, 2012




Over objections from the oil industry and power companies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued new air quality rules today to slash the amount of fine-particle soot allowed from smokestacks, wood-burning stoves and diesel vehicles.

The EPA, required by a court order to set a new standard by Dec. 14, said 99% of U.S. counties will be able to meet it by 2020 without taking additional steps. Environmental and public health groups hailed the rules, but critics said they could force costly pollution-abatement upgrades and harm economic growth.

"We will save lives and reduce the burden of illness in our communities," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said, adding the new soot rules are based on extensive scientific research.

Soot, also known as fine particle pollution, is microscopic but can cause lung and health problems when inhaled. It's been linked to premature deaths, asthma attacks, strokes, lung cancer and heart disease. The new rules would set their maximum allowable annual standard at 12 micrograms per cubic meter, down 20% from the current 15 micrograms per cubic meter.

"Today's decision is nothing short of historic. It is the first time EPA has ever tightened the critical long-term soot standard first set 15 years ago," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an environmental group.

"I'm a mother who knows all too well how devastating an asthma attack can be," Lydia Rojas, an American Lung Association volunteer from Oxnard, Calif., said in a press release from the group hailing the new rules. Her daughter died from an asthma attack at school. "The EPA's action today will mean that other moms whose children struggle to breathe because of soot pollution can know that much cleaner air is coming."

Yet critics said the new rules come at a cost to the economy. Howard Feldman of the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil industry, said the standards could potentially increase prices and decrease jobs at a time when 12 million Americans remain unemployed.

"The existing standards are working and will continue improving air quality," he said in a statement. "We fear this new rule may be just the beginning of a 'regulatory cliff'" that includes tougher ozone and greenhouse gas limits.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to consider revising its soot standards every five years, but President Bush declined to lower them during the last review in 2006. Facing opposition from industry groups and Congressional Republicans, President Obama's EPA sought to delay new rules, arguing they needed more time to review the latest scientific research.

Eleven states, along with the American Lung Association and environmental groups, filed suit against the EPA earlier this year to force action, saying current standards jeopardize public health.

Judge Robert L. Wilkins of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the EPA on June 2 to sign a proposed rule by mid-June, which it finalized today. The states joining the lawsuit included California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

The EPA said it expects fewer than 10 of the more than 3,000 counties in the United States will need to take additional measures to meet the new standard by 2020.

By 2030, it said such rules will prevent up to 40,000 premature deaths, 32,000 hospital admissions and 4.7 million days of work lost due to illness. It estimates the economic value of such health benefits will range from $4 billion to $9 billion per year while implementation costs will range from $53 million to $350 million.

Twice as many Americans support as oppose stricter soot pollution rules, according to a national survey last month of 942 registered voters conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for the American Lung Association.