Toxic air pollution has dropped dramatically, EPA tells Congress

The Environmental Protection Agency has made “substantial” progress in reducing toxic air pollution since 1990, reducing many pollutants by more than half, regulators told Congress Thursday.

On a national basis, reductions include a 66 percent drop in benzene, a nearly 60 percent reduction in mercury from man-made sources and an 84 percent drop in lead.

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The Thursday report is the second and final update required under the 1990 updates to the Clean Air Act, which mandated that the EPA work to reduce a wide range of pollution.

“It shows that we’ve made considerable gains in improving our air quality across the country,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters Thursday. “Meanwhile, as I think we know, our economy has been continuing to grow.”

The air toxins the EPA has reduced can cause serious health problems, such as asthma and cancer, she said.

The EPA also told Congress it estimated that air toxins from cars and trucks would fall 80 percent by 2030, when compared with 1990 levels.

“That’s going to bring us some newer, cleaner vehicles on the road, and that’s not only going to reduce lead and make our air cleaner, but it’s going to save consumers money at the pumps,” McCarthy said.

In her conference call with reporters, McCarthy sought to emphasize that the economy did not suffer from the pollution reductions called for in the 1990 law. Business groups at the time predicted large-scale economic harm and job losses, but the economy has continued to grow rapidly.

“We don’t have to choose between a healthy economy and a healthy environment,” McCarthy said. “The two go hand in hand, and I think today’s announcement is one more example of that.”

The auto industry has also thrived while complying with pollution regulations for vehicles, she said.

The EPA also announced it would soon launch two pilot projects aimed at providing communities with better information about the pollution from major nearby industries. Companies that release large amounts of emissions must report to the EPA, and McCarthy said she wants to get those communities better access to that data.

“This report gives us a lot to be proud of, but we still have more work to do,” she said.

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