American Lung Association Joins Suit Against EPA over Pollution Standards

The American Lung Association and the National Parks Conservation Association today filed a federal lawsuit to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to complete the required review of the need for stronger limits on the amount of soot, smoke, and other airborne particles that endanger public health.

“Since the federal government last reviewed this standard in 2006, science has shown even more evidence that these particles are dangerous to human health,” said Michael Seilback, Vice President of Public Policy and Communications at the American Lung Association in New York. “It’s wrong to continue to base public health protections on outdated science. A stronger particulate matter standard is needed to protect New Yorkers’ lung health.

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review the science and update the National Ambient Air Quality standards every five years to ensure the public is protected by the best available science. The agency failed to meet the deadline in October, 2011. EPA’s failure to update these standards means that outdated limits remain in place even though they fail to protect public health. Those particularly hard hit by particulate pollution include children, seniors, people with lung disease, heart disease and diabetes, and low income communities. Without updated standards, millions of people in the United States will face continued risk from unhealthy levels of particle pollution. Stronger standards would drive cleanup measures nationwide that could prevent thousands of premature deaths annually, according to an analysis published in 2011.

In 2006, EPA overruled its science advisors, who called for stronger pollution protections, and instead adopted the current weak particulate matter standards. In 2009, as a result of a separate legal challenge brought by these same health and environmental groups, a federal appeals court ruled that these standards were deficient and sent them back to EPA for corrective action. Since then, EPA has failed to propose new standards for particulate matter.

The lawsuit, filed by the public interest law firm Earthjustice on behalf of both national, nonprofit organizations, asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to impose a deadline of October, 2012 for EPA to complete its review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. In a companion lawsuit filed last week, nearly a dozen state attorneys general also sued the EPA over this ongoing violation of the federal Clean Air Act.

“We’re also pleased that Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is leading a multi-state fight to have the standard strengthened,” said Seilback. “We agree that these standards must be strengthened so we can help prevent premature deaths and asthma attacks each year in New York. EPA must finish its job.”

The health risks caused by breathing particulate matter are outlined in a recent study published by Earthjustice, the American Lung Association, and the Clean Air Task Force. The report, Sick of Soot, details how a reduction of soot in the air can prevent more than 35,000 premature deaths each year, decrease cases of aggravated asthma by more than one million, and save at least $280 billion in health care costs.

Airborne particulate matter is comprised of tiny particles of smoke, soot, metals and other chemical compounds emitted from sources like power plants, factories, and diesel trucks. Scientists say particulate matter, which can penetrate deep into our lungs, is one of the most toxic forms of air pollution. Particulate matter is also responsible for much of the haze that clouds many of our cities and parklands.