EPA’s new fine particle standard fuels debate

Diesel-smoke[1]Since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Dec. 14, 2012 announced the health standard for fine particles (PM 2.5) and soot had been tightened from the previous standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air set 15 years ago to 12 micrograms per cubic meter, this has prompted both discussion and debate. Sentiment is split: there are those in support of the “upgrade” and there are those opposed, with reasons pro and con given. Others, meanwhile, feel more related research is needed.

It is important to note the new EPA standard is more protective of human health.

“‘These standards are fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act,’” declared EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, in “EPA Announces Next Round of Clean Air Standards to Reduce Harmful Soot Pollution,” the title of the Dec. 14, 2012 EPA press release. “‘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.’”

Adding to this, The Fresno [California] Bee, in its: “We need these new rules on soot emissions,” Dec. 16, 2012 op-ed, stated, “The tougher standard is a money saver. It will create a huge net benefit for public health and the economy. The health benefits alone are estimated to save the economy anywhere from $4 billion to $9 billion annually in fewer hospitalizations and lost work days, among other things.

“Meanwhile, the cost of implementation is expected to range between $53 million and $350 million.”

But not everyone is convinced the revised standard is needed. Some question if indisputable evidence calling for the tightened health standard is even there.

From the American Chemical Society in “Fighting Soot In The Air,” article author Glenn Hess cited Howard Feldman of the American Petroleum Institute (the gas and oil industry’s main trade association, according to Hess), who argues more stringent regulatory controls aren’t necessary, the regulatory and science affairs director emphasizing “particulate pollution could be reduced by more than 20% in the next couple of years,” that assertion, apparently, is based upon the 1997 standard remaining in force as I understand it.

Meanwhile, information in The Fresno Bee commentary suggests fine particulate pollution, “tiny gritty bits of toxic smoke, metals and soot, can penetrate deep into airways and embed in lungs,” and “… can trigger lung and heart disease,” and asthma attacks in children and “… leads to premature death.”

In response, one commenter to the Bee editorial writes: “What Medical Proof do they have that can be proven, not something that is postulated.”

It is important to note in another Bee article: “Asthma study finds seasonal surprises,” through research conducted by University of California at San Francisco-Fresno Medical Education Program lead researcher Tim Tyner, it was discovered that trace amounts of chemicals related to PM 2.5 were found in urine samples. Moreover, in nine non-asthmatic women study participants, it was likewise discovered there was some narrowing of “small airways in the lungs,” there being a presumptive link to fine particle pollution.

In concluding, article author Mark Grossi wrote, “To confirm and expand on the findings, the researchers are planning a larger follow-up study involving 80 people — 40 with asthma, and 40 otherwise healthy individuals.”

– Alan Kandel