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EPA Takes Action On Particulate Pollution

CONTACT: Thea Schwartz, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-2359

December 17, 2012

Attorney General Sorrell announced that EPA has issued a more protective national air quality standard for fine particulate matter pollution, also known as “soot." Vermont was one of a group of states that took successful legal action to require EPA to adopt a stricter standard. “The years of legal action by Vermont and other states to make sure EPA adopted more protective soot standards have paid off,” Attorney General Bill Sorrell said, “Particulate pollution can cause serious health problems, especially for those with lung and heart conditions, children and senior citizens. The new standard will protect the air we breathe and millions of Americans will benefit.”

EPA has strengthened the annual standard for soot pollution from 15 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) to 12 ug/m3. Scientific evidence and EPA’s own assessment overwhelmingly support the new annual standard. EPA did not, however, strengthen the 24 hour standard for soot pollution, despite Vermont's and the other states' request.

Particulate matter pollution consists of microscopic particles that are formed predominantly as a result of the combustion of fossil fuel by power plants, motor vehicles industrial facilities, residential heating, and other sources. The fine particulate matter can penetrate deep into the lungs and trigger a wide range of adverse health effects including chronic respiratory illness, decreased lung function, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and premature death.

EPA last revised the soot standards in 2006, and did not strengthen the annual standard at that time. EPA failed to update the soot standards in 2011, as required by the federal Clean Air Act. In response to EPA's failure, Vermont and 10 other states filed a lawsuit in federal district court last February to compel EPA to update the standards. The court ruled that EPA must promptly issue proposed standards. EPA and the states then entered into a consent decree that required EPA to adopt the final standards by December 14, 2012. EPA's issuance of the standards puts in place a time frame for states to implement air pollution reduction measures in order to attain the standards.

The Attorney General undertook the legal action with the assistance and support of the Agency of Natural Resources.

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