EPA’s new air standards cut fine particulate limits

Oct. 2, 2006
The US Environmental Protection Agency announced new air quality standards on Sept. 21 that would reduce daily allowable fine particulate matter levels by almost 50%.

The US Environmental Protection Agency announced new air quality standards on Sept. 21 that would reduce daily allowable fine particulate matter levels by almost 50%.

Particulate matter is a complex mixture of extremely small airborne particles and liquid droplets, according to EPA. It said the new National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) address both fine particles (as small as 2.5 μm) and inhalable coarse particles (2.5-10 μm).

The new standards will have a bigger impact on electric power generators than on oil and gas producers. But the American Petroleum Institute said in a statement it was troubled by EPA’s action covering fine particles, which it found to be “overly conservative and based on incomplete science.”

In a separate statement, National Petrochemical & Refiners Association Pres. Bob Slaughter said the new NAAQS for fine particulates “represents a significant and costly burden placed on all industrial and commercial operations, including refining and petrochemical facilities.”

Joe Stanko, counsel for the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, said the previous standard ultimately provided more protection than was anticipated in 1997 when it was adopted. The new one, meanwhile, will cost $20-60 billion/year, “making it the most expensive federal regulation since the [White House] Office of Management and Budget began keeping records of regulatory costs in 1981,” he continued.

Other groups said the agency did not go far enough. “Overwhelming evidence shows that millions of people suffer unnecessarily-even face an earlier death-because they breathe this pollution. EPA could have-should have-done better,” said John L. Kirkwood, president of the American Lung Association (ALA) in New York.

“Regardless of the rhetoric, facts are facts. Today, EPA is delivering the most effective national air standards in US history to all 300 million Americans,” administrator Stephen L. Johnson said.

Specific impacts

The new standards reduce the allowable fine particulate limit to 35 μg/cu m of air from the previous 65 μg/cu m. EPA estimated that this would result in $9-75 billion/year of health benefits.

The agency also decided to retain the current annual standard of 15 μg/cu m for long-term exposure to fine particles. It said meeting this standard would produce $20-160 billion/year of health benefits, based on recently updated estimates.

EPA also retained the daily coarse particle limit of 150 μg/cu m. But it revoked the annual coarse particle exposure limit because available evidence does not suggest a relationship between adverse health effects and long-term exposure to coarse particles, it said.

API said the Clean Air Act requires EPA to review the latest scientific information and standards every 5 years. API said it participated in the latest review by the scientific community, industries, public interest groups, the general public, and EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.

EPA’s choice of a 35 μg/cu m fine particle limit “will lead to emission controls that may limit the ability of our industry to secure and expand energy supplies,” API said. It supports Johnson’s decision to retain the current annual fine particle standard, it added.

NPRA’s Slaughter also said the original standard for fine particulates was more protective than EPA assumed upon its adoption in 1997.

“We are concerned that the standard issued today burdens states by moving attainment targets before implementation of the 1997 NAAQS for particulate matter. The EPA should not change the existing standard now, before the states develop plans to meet the existing standard,” he said.

Kirkwood said ALA recommended a daily 25 μg standard and an annual 12 μg standard for fine particles. “While almost any improvement in the weak 1997 standards is better than nothing, EPA’s modest revisions cannot be justified,” he said.