Apr 14, 2020 - Energy & Environment

EPA declines to change air quality standards despite health risks

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed Tuesday to keep air quality standards for soot pollution unchanged from 2012.

Why it matters: This action has relevance to today's pandemic, according to Axios energy reporter Amy Harder. Scientists say soot air pollution exacerbates the effects of respiratory diseases, like the one caused by the coronavirus.

The big picture: Particulate matter — tiny bits of pollution that comesfrom a range of sources, including fuel combustion and indoor sources — is associated with acute cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

What they're saying:

“The U.S. has made incredible strides in reducing particulate matter concentrations across the nation. Based on review of the scientific literature and recommendation from our independent science advisors, we are proposing to retain existing PM standards which will ensure the continued protection of both public health and the environment.”
— EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler

But, but, but: The decision also goes against the advice of EPA air staffers, who found that the existing limits may be allowing thousands of premature deaths each year, E&E News reports.

One level deeper: The announcement regarding the standards, officially called the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, comes just a week after Harvard released a study that found higher levels of the small particulate matter, known as PM2.5, were associated with higher rates of death from COVID-19.

Go deeper: The pandemic and pollution

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