Story at a glance

  • The EPA is required by law to review the latest science and update the soot standard every five years.
  • In a draft report last year, EPA scientists recommended lowering the standard somewhere between 8 and 10 micrograms per cubic meter, estimating reducing the limit could save between 9,000 and 34,600 lives annually.
  • Wheeler said particulate matter concentrations have decreased around the country over the last few years, and the EPA’s decision came after careful consultation with the agency’s independent scientific advisory board and tens of thousands of public comments.

The Trump administration has decided against setting tougher standards for industrial soot emissions despite recommendations to do so from scientists and environmental organizations due to the effects on public health, The Washington Post reports. 

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Monday said the agency will keep the current soot pollution standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air for the next five years. The threshold was set during the Obama administration. The EPA is required by law to review the latest science and update the soot standard every five years. 


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In a draft report last year, EPA scientists had recommended lowering the standard somewhere between 8 and 10 micrograms per cubic meter, estimating reducing the limit could save between 9,000 and 34,600 lives annually. 

The fine particles from tailpipes, wildfires, factories and power plant smokestacks can enter the lungs and bloodstream, causing asthma, heart attacks and other conditions. 

During a call with reporters Monday, Wheeler said particulate matter concentrations have decreased around the country over the last few years and the EPA’s decision came after careful consultation with the agency’s independent scientific advisory board and tens of thousands of public comments. 

“Every scientist can take a look at this and reach a different conclusion,” Wheeler said, according to The Washington Post. “The U.S. now has some of the lowest fine particulate matter in the world.” 

West Virginia’s senior deputy attorney general, Douglas Buffington, praised the announcement as a big win for “West Virginia coal,” while environmentalist groups such as the Sierra Club condemned the move. 

“Low income communities and communities of color will bear the brunt of Wheeler’s heartless decision. The people most in need of strong science based standards are the ones who will suffer,” Al Armendariz, Sierra Club’s senior director of federal campaigns, said

“We look forward to the next Administration following the scientific evidence and setting the air quality standard that meets legal requirements to protect public health.”

New research also shows a link between exposure to soot pollution and COVID-19 mortality. A study published in April found a person living for decades in an area with high levels of fine particulate matter is 15 percent more likely to die after contracting the virus compared to someone in an area with one unit less of such pollution. 


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Published on Dec 07, 2020