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EPA proposes updates to annual PM2.5 national air quality standard

Projected non-attainment by county in 2020 under the range of the proposed new limits. Source: EPA. Click to enlarge.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed updates to its national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for harmful fine particle pollution (PM2.5). These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and have been linked to a wide range of serious health effects, including premature death, heart attacks, and strokes, as well as acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma among children.

EPA’s proposal would strengthen the annual health standard for PM2.5 to a level within a range of 13 µg/m3 to 12 µg/m3. The current annual standard is 15 µg/m3, which has been in place since 1997. By proposing a range, EPA said it will collect input from the public as well as a number of stakeholders, including industry and public health groups, to help determine the most appropriate final standard to protect public health. Other aspects of the proposed rulemaking include:

  • Retaining the existing 24‐hour fine particle standard of 35 µg/m3, which was set in 2006.

  • Setting a separate fine particle standard to improve visibility, primarily in urban areas. EPA is proposing two options for this 24‐hour standard, at 30 deciviews or 28 deciviews. (A deciview is a yardstick for measuring visibility.)

  • Retaining existing secondary standards for PM2.5 and PM10 identical to primary standards to provide protection against other effects, such as ecological effects, effects on materials, and climate impacts. 

  • For coarse particles (PM10), the proposal would retain the existing 24‐hour standard of 150 µg/m3, which has been in place since 1987.

EPA is proposing to grandfather pre-construction permitting applications that have made substantial progress through the review process at the time the final standards are issued. The agency is also proposing updates and improvements to the PM2.5 monitoring network that include relocating a small number of monitors to measure fine particles near heavily traveled roads. EPA’s proposal does not require additional monitors.  In addition, the proposal would update the Air Quality Index (AQI) for particle pollution.

A federal court ruling in 2009 required EPA to update the standard based on best available science by October 2011. After EPA did not meet that deadline, a court order issued earlier this month required the agency to issue its new proposal to update the standards by today.

The proposed changes, which are consistent with the advice from the agency’s independent science advisors, are based on an extensive body of scientific evidence that includes thousands of studies—including many large studies which show negative health impacts at lower levels than previously understood.

EPA projects that 99% of US counties will meet the proposed standards without undertaking any further actions to reduce emissions.

Because reductions in fine particle pollution have direct health benefits including decreased mortality rates, fewer incidents of heart attacks, strokes, and childhood asthma, these standards have major economic benefits with comparatively low costs, EPA suggests.

Depending on the final level of the standard, estimated benefits will range from $88 million a year, with estimated costs of implementation as low as $2.9 million, to $5.9 billion in annual benefits with a cost of $69 million—a return ranging from $30 to $86 for every dollar invested in pollution control. While EPA cannot consider costs in selecting a standard under the Clean Air Act, those costs are estimated as part of the analysis undertaken for all significant regulations, as required by Executive Order 13563 issued by President Obama in January 2011.

EPA will accept public comment for 63 days after the proposed standards are published in the Federal Register. The agency will hold two public hearings; one in Sacramento, CA. and one in Philadelphia, PA. Details on the hearings will be announced shortly. EPA will issue the final standards by 14 December 2012.



"EPA projects that 99% of US counties will meet the proposed standards without undertaking any further actions to reduce emissions."

This means that the new rules are just a new set of clothes for an basically unchanged pollution set.

In addition to grandfathering, the 1% of polluters in potential violation will receive a variance no doubt.

The burning goes on with no end in sight.


What is the cause of the worst pollution in Southern California, that is not also in the Los Angeles area?


If too many regulations is not a good thing, more is even better.


Polluted air is responsible for an important but still undefined part of the growing health care cost in many industrialized countries.

Reduction and elimination of the worse air pollutants is one of the easiest way to reduce many associated diseases, reduce escalating curative health care cost, reduce absenteeism, increase productivity, reduce production cost, increase exports and reduce imports, reduce unemployment and national deficits and increase the general well being of most of us.

Even the 1% with most of the wealth would benefit.


One problem is that there's no mechanism for bringing the cost of the PM emissions back to the emitter; non-compliance zones can be forced to take action, but the connection to the polluting activity is tenuous.  A tax on PM emissions or the devices and activities which produce them would be a superior way of addressing the problem, especially because the revenues could offset the costs of those emissions.


Could fines (starting at $5T or so) based on damages caused during 100+ years, similar to those applied to tobacco companies, be part of a government/individual class action against the main culprits, i.e:

1. Fossil/bio-fuel industries
2. Diesel/ICE machine makers
3. Diesel/ICE machine users

As a consequence, the price of liquid diesel fuel would certainly go up, (as the price of cigarettes and tobacco did) but the growing increase in health care cost may go done. Secondly, many operators/users would be looking at cleaner hybrids and EVs to lower their fuel cost?

Burning fossil and bio liquid fuels could be banned, as did tobacco usage, in many places, starting in inner city cores, close to schools, parks, etc? Many diesel/electric locomotives already have to switch to electricity only within city cores.



Third para should read... increase in health care cost may go DOWN not done.

Kit P

More junk science from Obama’s EPA by showing to his base that he is tough on the environment.

First off, air quality is very good these days in the USofA demonstrating that an industrialized country can have good air quality with the application of pollution control technology.

Second the proposed changes are marginal. Existing regulations are below the threshold of harm. Moving the regulatory level a tad lower will not reduce health care costs.

Third Obama’s EPA is referencing old data of dubious quality. While clearly very high levels of air pollution over a long period of time have health ramifications, you have to move to China to suffer those consequences.

I was explaining this to a family member and open the EPA website AIRNOW. To my surprise there was a place with a warning for air quality being hazardous. The cause was a huge forest fire north of Denver.

If you live in the USofA and think I am wrong tell me where you live. I think we have solve the problem of air quality.


KP...moving to New Jersey USA where 1/29 (soon to be 1/25) baby boy is born with Autism and where cancer cases and many other polluted air health related problems more than double every generation is not a bad choice if one really likes to be sick and/or have sick children.

USA certainly has a very long way to go to solve air/water pollution, junk food addiction, obesity, cancers and 100+ environmentally related diseases.


KP...about 50% of my ancestors (last 11 generations) were (like me) born in what is now known as USA but many moved back to Canada in the last 80+ years. Canada was doing rather well, air pollution wise, until the current PM was given a majority government. Lately, Canada is going backward at a high rate to satisfy the very large OIL $$$ political supporters from Alberta. We will be going through our W Bush era and the Dutch Syndrome for the next four+ years or even more.

Eastern Canada is fighting air pollution with relative success while Western Canada, with increasing tar sand operations and larger vehicles, is polluting more and more. The total is going up and getting close to 25-tonnes/year per capita. It varies widely from 11 to 67 tonnes/year per capita from one province to another. The wide variance will increase year after year or whenever oil extraction from tar sands multiplies for export to Asia and USA. This may go on for many more decades.

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