The Environmental Protection Agency has announced a new standard for soot pollution yesterday that would force industry, utilities and local governments to find ways to cut emissions of particles that are linked to thousands of cases of disease and death each year.
The agency, acting under a court deadline, set an annual standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air, a significant tightening from the earlier standard of 15 micrograms, set in 1997, which was not found to be adequate by a federal court to protect public health.
The new standard is in the middle of the range of 11 to 13 micrograms per cubic meter which is in accordance with the EPA's science advisory panel's recommendation.
Communities would need to meet the new standard by 2020 or face possible penalties, including loss of federal transportation financing.
The EPA action came on the basis of health studies that found that exposure to fine particles - in this case measuring 2.5 micrometers in diameter - resulted in a significant increase in heart and lung disease, acute asthma attacks and early death. Older people, adults with heart and lung ailments and children were particularly susceptible to adverse effects.
According to the agency, the benefit of the new rule would be $4 billion to $9 billion a year, with annual annual costs of putting it into effect at $53 million to $350 million.