Energy & Environment

EPA science advisers recommend tighter soot air quality standards in draft document

In a new draft document, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) science advisers recommended that the agency tighten its air quality standards for soot pollution after the Trump administration declined to make such a move. 

The new draft that was released Friday by the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) says “all CASAC members agree that the current level of the annual standard is not sufficiently protective of public health and should be lowered.”

In late 2020, the Trump administration declined to tighten the standard for soot pollution, leaving it at the level finalized under the Obama administration. 

But in June 2021, the Biden administration said that it would reconsider that decision

In October, the agency identified evidence for tightening the standard, saying in a draft assessment that air quality analyses and risk can “reasonably be viewed as calling into question the adequacy of the public health protection afforded by the … standards.”

The Trump administration’s decision was controversial, as critics noted that findings reviewed by the agency have linked exposure to the pollution to as many as 52,100 premature deaths and suggested that stricter standards could save thousands of people. 

Soot pollution has been linked to heart attacks, aggravated asthma and decreased lung function, as well as premature deaths. 

This type of pollution comes from sources including fires, smokestacks and construction sites, as well as from pollution released by power plants and cars. 

The new draft from the CASAC bolsters the EPA’s plans, and it is expected to propose a rule that reevaluates the current standards this summer and finalizes the rule next year.

The document said that the majority of CASAC members said the standard should be lowered significantly, from allowing concentrations of 12 micrograms of soot per cubic meter of air to allowing between 8 and 10 micrograms. 

A minority of the members preferred a less stringent standard of between 10 and 11 micrograms per cubic meter. 

They all agreed that the current standards put people at risk from soot, which is also known as fine particulate matter or PM2.5. 

“The CASAC agrees with the EPA’s assessment that there are large populations at risk of PM2.5 health effects,” the panel wrote, also citing “new evidence of disparities in risk across various population subgroups.”

“The CASAC concurs with the EPA’s assessment that meaningful risk reductions will result from lowering the annual PM2.5 standard,” the panel said. 

Last year, EPA Administrator Michael Regan took the unusual step of firing and replacing CASAC’s members, after some Trump-era appointees came under scrutiny for industry ties. 

At the time, the EPA said its decision was made to reverse undue industry influence, but Republicans criticized it as a “political purge.”

Meanwhile, the EPA also said last year that it would reinstate a panel made up of scientists who are considered experts on soot pollution that was disbanded under the Trump administration in 2018. 

Tags Air pollution biden administration Environment EPA Michael Regan Pollution soot

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