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EPA's new air quality standard for fine particles a public health "win".

THE U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finalized an update to its national air quality standards for harmful fine particle pollution, including soot, a move health and environmental advocates heralded as "an important win for the American people and our environment."

EPA officials announced the new protections, which set an annual health standard for fine particle pollution at 12 micrograms per cubic meter, on Dec. 14, in response to a court order. Exposure to fine particle pollution is linked to a range of serious health problems including premature death, heart attacks and strokes, as well as acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma among children. APHA was one of numerous health and environmental groups to push for the update.

"This updated air quality standard is an important safeguard for public health," said APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E).

The rule was first proposed June 14, and gives states until 2020 to meet the updated standards. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said 99 percent of U.S. counties were projected to meet the revised health standards without any additional actions.

"These standards are fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act," Jackson said. "We will save lives and reduce the burden of illness in our communities, and families across the country will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air."

Fine particle pollution comes from sources such as power plants, oil refineries and diesel trucks and buses. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review air quality standards every five years and update those standards as needed. The agency updated one national limit in 2006 but failed to do so for fine particulate matter. Fine particulate pollution, or pollution with particulate matter 2.5 micrograms of diameter or less--smaller than a strand of hair--is a special health concern because such small particles can penetrate more deeply into the lungs and heart than larger particles, causing severe health problems.

In 2009, a federal court rejected the Bush administration's refusal to strengthen the standard, citing the failure to protect public health. A court order required the agency to update the standards by Dec. 14, 2012.

"The EPA's long-awaited standards for soot are an important win for the American people and our environment," said John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Reducing this harmful air pollution will save thousands of lives while also preventing many more thousands of asthma attacks, heart attacks and incidents of lung disease, lung cancer and heart disease."

The updated standards were released after two public hearings and review of more than 230,000 written comments, according to EPA officials. The standard is based on "an extensive body of scientific evidence that includes thousands of studies--including many larger studies which show negative health impacts at lower levels than previously understood," according to an EPA statement.

The standards that cut fine particle pollution from diesel equipment and vehicles alone are estimated to prevent up to 40,000 premature deaths and 32,000 hospital admissions by 2030. EPA officials said the revised fine particulate matter standard will have economic benefits of $4 billion-$9 billion yearly. Fewer than 10 of the more than 3,000 counties in the United States will need to consider any local actions to reduce fine particle pollution to meet the new standard by 2020, Jackson said.

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Author:Currie, Donya
Publication:The Nation's Health
Date:Feb 1, 2013
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