EPA Administrator Ronald Reagan today announced the agency’s final decision to strengthen limits on soot (fine particulate matter) in the air, a win for the health of all Americans, especially those most affected by air pollution. The limits, part of the Clean Air Act, known as the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, define how much soot pollution is medically unsafe to breathe and set the levels to which such pollution must be reduced nationwide. Air pollution from soot from car and truck exhaust pipes, power plants and other fossil fuel combustion poses serious health risks to humans, damaging the heart, brain and cardiovascular system and leading to premature death. With strong action today, Americans will breathe cleaner, healthier air. In fact, the EPA estimates that the tighter smoke limits announced today will result in 4,500 fewer deaths and 800,000 fewer asthma attacks per year nationwide by 2032 (among other health benefits).
Smoke limits updated for first time in 12 years
Current annual health limits for PM2.5 Setting a pollution level of 12 micrograms per cubic meter back in 2012, the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to reassess the limit every five years. Since 2012, the dangers of inhaling soot have become clearer through hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies. This strong evidence base is detailed in EPA’s nearly 2,000-page 2019 Comprehensive Scientific Assessment, which highlights emerging hazards from PM2.5, including neurological effects and increased cancer risk. Despite this evidence, and against the advice of career EPA staff and a panel of outside experts, the Trump administration EPA in late 2020 declined to recommend stricter soot limits. In the first week of the Biden administration in 2021, NRDC and its coalition partners filed a lawsuit forcing the EPA to reconsider the decision.
Later that year, the EPA agreed to reexamine the soot limits and reviewed more recent scientific research on soot health hazards than was available for the 2019 scientific assessment. After reviewing the overwhelming evidence on the dangers of soot, the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, an expert scientific adviser, recommended in 2022 that the agency tighten its annual standards to 8 to 10 micrograms per cubic meter (with 8 being the safest level) .
Early last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggested Tightening national restrictions on smoke and dust to a level of 9-10 micrograms per cubic meter, and comments were sought on a wider range (8-10 micrograms per cubic meter). In EPA’s 177-page technical comment in response to its proposal, We pushed for the agency to enact strict soot limits because doing so is supported by science and legally required by the Clean Air Act.
“Smoke puts tens of millions of Americans at risk, disproportionately harming low-income communities and people of color. It is especially dangerous to vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly and people with compromised health. EPA Put public health first and demand that polluters reduce this dangerous pollution in the air we breathe.”
Manish Bapna, President and CEO, NRDC
Stronger smoke protection promotes health and equity
While the Clean Air Act brought huge air pollution reduction and health benefits across the country, the benefits of this landmark law have not been equitably reflected. Millions of Americans still live in areas where soot air pollution reaches unsafe levels, with low-income communities and communities of color disproportionately affected. Scientific research shows that marginalized populations, including Black Americans and low-income communities, continue to bear a disproportionate burden of high soot air pollution. These exposures create health disparities that leave these populations with higher rates of life-threatening chronic health conditions, including heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and asthma. In fact, the nation’s most polluted census tracts have changed little since the 1980s.
EPA’s action today will provide important health benefits and promote environmental justice in communities with high levels of air pollution. For example, a recent analysis confirmed the EPA’s estimate that today’s actions will result in thousands more deaths from exposure to smoke pollution. Per year. Importantly, this study also shows that the tighter smoke limits enacted by the EPA today will result in above-average health benefits for low-income communities and communities of color that have been exposed to hazardous smoke for decades serious burden of pollution. According to 2020-2022 air monitoring data collected by the state environmental protection department, annual soot air pollution levels in 119 of 3,143 counties exceeded the newly revised limits. EPA modeling projects that 52 counties will be unable to meet enhanced standards in 2032.
Making cleaner air a reality
In 2026, EPA will carefully study air monitoring data from 2023-2025 to make a preliminary determination of whether these limits have been reached. Because soot air pollution is so dangerous and exposure is so widespread, it is critical that the EPA continues to follow science and the law as it monitors and enforces air pollution limits under the Clean Air Act in the coming years. Doing so can help more Americans achieve cleaner, healthier air.