EPA Requires That Communities Reduce Soot By 2020

  • Shaded areas do not meet EPA 1997 Annual Fine Particulate Matter standards. Source: EPA

On Friday, the U-S Environmental Protection Agency set a deadline for reducing soot pollution. Soot is technically known as fine particulate matter measuring less than 2.5 micrometers across. Its size makes it dangerous because it can be inhaled deep into human lungs.

The EPA says communities across the country have to reduce the amount of soot that goes into their air by 20 percent by the end of the decade.

Soot comes mostly from car and truck exhaust and coal-fired power plant emissions but it also gets into the air by burning wood. It’s considered to be the country’s most widespread deadly pollutant. In a video released by the administration to announce the rule change, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson spoke about the improvements it will make to air quality.

"Exposure to fine particle pollution is estimated to cost tens of thousands of premature deaths each year," Jackson said. "The standards we finalize this week will reduce the impact of these illnesses on Americans. They will also help them avoid expensive trips to the ER and expensive hosptial stays. Its estimated that by 2020 the strengthened PM2.5 standards could save billions of dollars each year."

But critics in the coal industry say the rule will make it tough for coal plants to stay in business or expand operations. That’s because they must buy expensive controls to limit particulate emissions or risk losing operational permits. So some business groups are calling for a more lenient rule.

A 2009 court ruling found that a few years before, under the Bush administration, the EPA ignored the advice of its own scientists by holding on to the agency’s 1997 standards. The new standard would reduce the level from 15 to 12 micrograms of soot per cubic meter of air.