In response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) finalizing updated National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Fine Particulate Matter, Dr. Lisa Patel, Executive Director for the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, issued the following statement:
Today, February 7, 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final rule updating the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for Particulate Matter (PM 2.5), also known as soot pollution. The EPA has revised the yearly standard, reducing it from 12 micrograms per cubic meter to a more stringent 9 micrograms per cubic meter. The Consortium welcomes these strengthened standards and thanks President Biden and Administrator Regan for their efforts to reduce air pollution and safeguard our health.
Soot is a dangerous and deadly pollutant produced by industrial manufacturing, car exhaust, and power plant emissions mostly from the burning of fossil fuels. It threatens our health and environment — affecting approximately 63 million Americans and posing particular risks to infants, children, pregnant individuals, seniors, communities of color, and people with chronic illness. As doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals, we see the effects of harmful air pollution in our clinics and hospitals. From children who live close to polluting industries and develop asthma to elderly individuals who are at greater risk for stroke and heart disease from air pollution–we advocate for cleaner air to best protect the health of our patients.
The emphasis on strengthening air pollution rules also underscores a commitment to equity and environmental justice. Historically, marginalized and low-income communities have borne a disproportionate burden of environmental hazards, including elevated levels of air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels. By prioritizing stricter standards and enforcement mechanisms, these actions seek to rectify systemic disparities and ensure that all communities, regardless of socioeconomic status or demographic makeup, have access to clean, healthy air. The EPA estimates that the new standard will prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths and 800,000 asthma attacks, yielding up to $46 billion in net health benefits by 2032.
We celebrate these promised improvements but recognize that further actions are needed to tackle the climate crisis and promote health equity, including on the 24-hour soot standard. Health professionals will continue to advocate to reduce fossil fuel pollution as we work toward ensuring a healthier world for all.