Public Health

The EPA just raised an air quality standard on particulate matter

The agency said the rule could prevent 4,500 premature deaths.
article cover

Rudall30/Getty Images

· less than 3 min read

Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.

Take a deep breath and appreciate the pollution—because it might not last.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strengthened an air quality rule on Feb. 7, lowering the amount of particulate matter—a category of pollution that includes burnt fuels, dust particles, and soot—permitted in the air.

The new standard, one of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter (PM NAAQS), lowers the permitted average concentration of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) to 9 micrograms per cubic meter, a reduction from the previous standard of 12 micrograms. The difference may seem small, but the EPA estimates that the 3 microgram change will prevent 4,500 premature deaths and nearly 300,000 missed days of work by 2032.

“This final air quality standard will save lives and make all people healthier,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “Cleaner air means that our children have brighter futures, and people can live more productive and active lives.”

The EPA estimates that states will have to meet the new standard by 2032 and that 99% of counties will be able to do so.

With a combination of air quality monitors and computer models, states are able to determine the air quality of areas under their jurisdiction. If monitors calculate an average PM2.5 concentration above EPA’s standards, state regulators must work to improve air quality, according to the EPA.

Research shows that air pollution, such as PM2.5, can exacerbate symptoms for those with asthma—a condition that disproportionately affects poor and non-white groups, particularly children and older adults. The CDC estimates that treating asthma adds up to around $50 billion in annual healthcare costs.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), a not-for-profit advocacy group, pointed out that the EPA left another PM NAAQS standard on how much pollution is permitted over a 24-hour period untouched. Rules for larger particulates and how pollution can affect matters less closely tied to human health, such as agriculture, also remain the same.

“We still have more work to do,” Kenneth Mendez, AAFA president and CEO, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the EPA and policymakers to make further improvements.”

Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.