EPA Proposes Life-Saving Soot Pollution Standards

Environment Maine

Portland, ME—Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in response to a court order, proposed updated air quality standards for particulate matter or “soot” pollution.  Soot pollution is the deadliest of the common air pollutants, causing hundreds of thousands of premature deaths every year across the country through a variety of cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses.  It also contributes to haze that hangs over Acadia National Park and many other scenic parks and wilderness areas.  Sources of soot pollution include power plants and diesel trucks and buses.  The proposed standards would outline how much soot pollution could be in the air and still be safe to breathe, and would better reflect the latest scientific research.

Ben Seel, Clean Energy Organizer with Environment Maine, issued the following statement in response:

“Soot pollution kills hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, but these updated standards from EPA would help all Mainers breathe a little easier.  Environment Maine applauds EPA for proposing this much-needed public health safeguard, and we urge them to move ahead with finalizing this standard as soon as possible—for the sake of Mainers’ health, and our environment.” 


  • Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that exposure to soot pollution causes premature death and is linked to a variety of significant health problems, such as cardiovascular and respiratory problems, including non‐fatal heart attacks and the development of chronic respiratory disease. People with heart or lung disease (including asthma), older adults, children, are most at risk from the impacts of soot pollution. Pregnant women, newborns, and people with certain health conditions, such as obesity or diabetes, also may be more susceptible to soot- related effects.
  • The updated standards proposed today are National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for fine particulate matter pollution (PM 2.5), which EPA is required to set and update under the Clean Air Act.  If an area is found to have levels of pollution that exceed the NAAQS, they are said to be in “nonattainment” and local and state agencies are then required to develop a plan to reduce pollution levels through various pollution control measures.  EPA is required to update these standards periodically to reflect the latest scientific research regarding how much pollution can be in the air and yet still be safe to breathe.  An overview of today’s proposed standard can be found at http://www.epa.gov/pm/2012/fsoverview.pdf
  • EPA is proposing to strengthen the annual NAAQS for fine particulate matter pollution to between 12 and 13 micrograms per cubic meter, as compared to the existing standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter which has been in place since 1997.  EPA said today that it would expect to announce which areas of the country are in non-attainment with the strengthened standard by December of next year, and then the designations would take effect in 2015. 
  • A 2010 study by Clean Air Task Force found that particulate matter from power plants alone cuts short the lives of about 40 Mainers every year.


Environment Maine is Environment Maine is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization.