Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced new air quality standards for fine particulate matter, or soot. The updated standards set the limit for safe concentrations of soot in the air at an annual level of 12 micrograms (one-millionth of a gram) per cubic meter, and a daily level of 35 micrograms per cubic meter. These stronger soot protections will lead to cleaner, safer air nationwide and prevent approximately 15,000 premature deaths every year, and they are expected to save $118 billion in health costs annually.
The EPA’s updated soot limits are a result of litigation filed by environmental and public health groups earlier this year, culminating in a federal court order requiring the EPA to issue updated standards. The standard takes into consideration the latest science and medical research, affirming that soot pollution must be limited because of its deadly health effects.
Soot particles are released into the air by burning dirty fuels like coal. In Minnesota, our dependence on coal for nearly 60% of our electricity results in major impacts. Soot is composed of dangerous metals and chemicals, and the particles are so small — as tiny as 1/30th the width of a human hair — that they can lodge deep within the lungs and move into our blood streams. Even at very low levels, exposure to soot is harmful to human health and can cause heart attacks, strokes, asthma attacks, cancer, developmental and reproductive harm and even premature death.
This new standard is an important step in the right direction, but the real solution is moving to an economy based on clean energy.