In another dimension -- a wonderful, magical dimension -- an announcement about curtailing soot pollution would be hailed as a triumph, an obviously useful decision that's worth celebrating.
That dimension seems like it would be a nice place to live.
Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a stricter guideline for particle pollution, small pieces of dust and soot and other combusted matter that are released into the air and then inhaled. Particulate matter is one of six pollutants covered by the EPA's National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which serve as a sort of clean air check list. Every five years the standards are reviewed for efficacy in protecting public health; each is supposed to be updated as needed to protect health.
There are two types of particulate matter regulated by the EPA, and two levels at which they're monitored. Today's proposal [PDF] would drop the annual amount of allowable fine particle (PM 2.5) pollution from 15 micrograms per cubic meter to 12 or 13 -- in the former (better) case, a reduction of 20 percent. The EPA also proposed a new standard that would improve visibility in urban areas, mandating either 28 or 30 deciviews. States would have until 2020 to meet the standards.
So that's the science. More important are the impacts. Those most susceptible to negative effects of particulate pollution are those with heart and lung disease, older people, children, and those in low-income households. Long-term fine particulate matter exposure results in premature death from heart disease and increased heart attacks and strokes; short-term exposure can trigger similar deadly responses along with impaired breathing. The EPA estimates that a reduction to 12 micrograms/cubic meter would save between $2.3 billion and $5.9 billion in health costs. Annually.
Win-win, right? Well ...