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Earlier in 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposed update to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5). These standards are more commonly known as the soot pollution standards.

Below you can learn:

  • More about the soot pollution standards
  • How the standard impacts people with asthma
  • How you can join the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) in urging the EPA to set stronger, evidence-based standards that will protect our health

The National Ambient Air Quality Standards

The NAAQS are regulations set by the EPA to protect public health and the environment. They limit the levels of harmful pollutants in the air.

The NAAQS set maximum limits on six common air pollutants:

  • Ground-level ozone
  • Particulate matter
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Lead

By setting these standards, the EPA aims to ensure that the air we breathe is clean and safe. The EPA reviews and updates NAAQS regularly to reflect the latest scientific research on air pollution and its effects on human health and the environment.

States and local governments are responsible for applying and enforcing the NAAQS. They often do this through measures such as:

  • Emission controls on industrial sources
  • Vehicle emissions testing
  • Other air pollution reduction programs

The soot pollution standards are part of the NAAQS regulations.

Soot Pollution Impacts Lung Health

Soot or particle pollution is produced by power plants, vehicle tailpipes, and other industrial sources. These sources release small particles into the air. They can be found in haze, smoke, and airborne dust.

People with asthma are at greater risk of being affected by small particles in the air. Breathing in these particles can make asthma worse. Both long-term and short-term exposure can cause health problems, such as reduced lung function and more asthma attacks.

Soot pollution is also linked to more emergency room visits, hospital stays, and missed school days related to asthma. Asthma is one of the most common chronic illnesses in children and is the leading chronic cause of missed school days.

In the United States, the burden of asthma falls disproportionately on Black and Hispanic populations, especially on minority children. These groups have higher rates of poor asthma outcomes, including hospital stays and deaths. These are the same populations that confront higher exposure to air pollutants like soot.

The Soot Pollution Standards

The NAAQS for PM2.5, or the soot pollution standards, set by the EPA are two different standards that regulate the amount of soot in the air.

  1. The first standard limits the annual average level of soot. This is important because of the negative health outcomes related to long-term exposure to soot.

  2. The second standard limits short-term spikes of soot. This is also important because people exposed to higher levels of soot for hours or days can have immediate health effects like asthma episodes and other respiratory symptoms.

    The second standard, or daily standard, is especially important for people with asthma because it informs the daily Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI is the national system that alerts you when air quality is unsafe in your area.

Both of these standards are necessary to ensure that the air we breathe is safe and healthy for everyone.

EPA’s Proposed Soot Standards Are Not Strong Enough

Despite the severe health risks associated with soot exposure, soot pollution standards have not been updated since 2012. AAFA has long advocated for updating the standards to better protect our health. We are pleased that the EPA has decided to take action.

But the EPA’s proposed soot standards must be stronger to line up with the current science to protect the health of people in the United States.

AAFA and other public health groups have repeatedly called on the EPA to set an annual standard of 8 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) and a daily standard of 25 µg/m3. But the EPA’s proposal only sets the annual standard at 9-10 µg/m3. It does not propose a change to the daily standard, leaving it at 35 µg/m3.

The EPA’s own Regulatory Impact AnalysisDownload PDF shows that changing the annual standard from 9 µg/m3 to 8 µg/m3 would prevent more than twice as many diagnosed cases of asthma.

Take Action!

There is still time to ask the EPA to strengthen the proposed soot pollution standards. The EPA is taking comments on its proposal until March 28.

This is an important opportunity to show the EPA that the asthma and allergy community supports stronger standards that ensure clean air for all.

AAFA will be sending a letter in support of an annual standard of 8 µg/m3 and a daily standard of 25 µg/m3. Science shows that these levels will save thousands of lives, advance environmental justice, and protect our health.

You can add your voice by filling out the form below. AAFA will then collect the responses and submit your responses to the EPA.

Thank you for your advocacy!

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