By Carey Gillam
US officials said Friday that they are moving to strengthen a key air quality standard, acknowledging a wealth of scientific evidence that demonstrates the dire health dangers posed by air pollution – and the lack of adequate protection provided by current US standards.
Promising “transformative” change, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan announced an agency proposal that would tighten the current air quality standard for what is commonly referred to as PM2.5, defined as fine particulate matter that is less than or equal to 2.5 micrometers (mm) in diameter.
The agency proposal falls woefully short of recommendations by the World Health Organization, and some critics expressed disappointment in the effort. But other observers applauded the move.
“All decreases are good and will have health benefits,” said Scott Weichenthal, a researcher at McGill University in Canada who specializes in evaluating environmental risk factors for chronic diseases. “Larger decreases are better but there are practical realities that the EPA has to consider, and this is a move in the right direction.”
People are exposed to these harmful fine particles, also referred to as soot, through a variety of common sources, including industrial emissions, vehicle exhaust and wildfire smoke. Soot exposure is known to contribute to a range of health problems, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. The fine particulate matter can penetrate a person’s lungs and move into the blood stream, impacting other organs. Lower-income communities and people of color are seen at particular risk.