EPA Finalizes Standards for Airborne Particulate Matter

This is the first update to the standards in 12 years.

Kristen Kazarian, Managing Editor

February 8, 2024

3 Min Read
EPA strengthens PM rule
The American Chemistry Council responds to the stronger rule.Image courtesy of Jeremy Walker / Stone via Getty Images

The US Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday finalized a significantly stronger air quality rule that it says will better protect the American public from the dangerous and costly health effects of fine particle pollution.

EPA stated that by strengthening the annual health-based national ambient air quality standard for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from a level of 12 micrograms per cubic meter to 9 micrograms per cubic meter, the EPA’s updated standard will save lives and save $46 billion in net health benefits in 2032.

This decision was based on the best available science, as required by the Clean Air Act, and sets an air quality level that EPA will help states and Tribal Nations achieve over the coming years — including through complementary EPA standards to reduce pollution from power plants, vehicles, and industrial facilities, paired with historic investments under President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Since 2000, PM2.5 concentrations in the outdoor air have decreased by 42% while the U.S. Gross Domestic Product increased by 52% during that time.

“This final air quality standard will save lives and make all people healthier, especially within America’s most vulnerable and overburdened communities,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan.

“Cleaner air means that our children have brighter futures, and people can live more productive and active lives, improving our ability to grow and develop as a nation. EPA looks forward to continuing our decades of success in working with states, counties, Tribes, and industry to ensure this critical health standard is implemented effectively to improve the long-term health and productivity of our nation.” 

Along with strengthening the primary annual PM2.5 standard, EPA is modifying the PM2.5 monitoring network design criteria to include a factor that accounts for proximity of populations at increased risk of PM2.5-related health effects to sources of air pollution.

In June 2021, EPA said it would reconsider the December 2020 decision to retain the 2012 standards because the available scientific evidence and technical information indicated that the standards may not be adequate to protect public health and welfare. The agency took into account the available science and technical information, as well as the recommendations of independent advisors comprising the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and CASAC PM expert panel when making the decision to strengthen the PM standards.

EPA has retained the current primary 24-hour standard for PM10, which provides protection against coarse particles. EPA is also not changing the secondary (welfare-based) standards for fine particles and coarse particles at this time.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) Response

The ACC commented on the EPA's stronger standard for PM 2.5:

"ACC is disappointed that EPA continues to make permitting for important projects harder and more challenging through its revised standards for fine particulate matter under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). As we continue to review the rule, we are significantly concerned about the EPA’s choice to intentionally ignore costs and create a more stringent annual NAAQS, particularly in a process outside of the standard Clean Air Act review period.

"As ACC and its industry partners have highlighted in prior comments, EPA’s revised standard will only serve to exacerbate current permitting gridlock issues at a time when domestic economic performance is critical to national interests. These impacts will hinder our nation’s ability to build new infrastructure, expand manufacturing, and grow our economy.

"ACC is also concerned about EPA’s lack of transparency and the flawed factual analyses that informed its rulemaking, as we believe the Agency has dramatically underestimated the impact of tighter standards by only partially estimating the geographic extent and costs of tightening the standards. Ultimately, EPA’s choice to revise existing standards without providing adequate implementation time means that the Agency may seriously jeopardize current and future projects that would otherwise bring important economic benefits to our nation."

About the Author(s)

Kristen Kazarian

Managing Editor

Kristen Kazarian has been a writer and editor for more than three decades. She has worked at several consumer magazines and B2B publications in the fields of food and beverage, packaging, processing, women's interest, local news, health and nutrition, fashion and beauty, automotive, and computers.

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