CARY, N.C. – Scientists meet this week in Cary to debate whether the Environmental Protection Agency’s current standards for particulate matter and ozone air pollution are robust enough to protect public health.
The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee also will hear public testimony about the air-pollution standards.
John Bachmann, former associate director for science and policy at the EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, said the agency reviews the standards for six air pollutants every five years.
“These standards for particulate matter were part of the original Clean Air Act, and they were established in 1971,” he said. “They have been revised periodically, and they were revised in a big way in 1987 to change the definition of ‘particulate matter’ to just particles that you can breathe.”
The committee also is accepting written comments. The EPA is expected to make a decision on changing the standards sometime next year.
Millions of Americans live in counties where breathing the air is linked to increased risk of lung cancer, early death and other health problems. Bachmann said particulate matter is so fine that there’s no way to avoid inhaling it.
“EPA has previously determined there is a causal relationship between fine particles and mortality, hospital admissions and some other effects,” he said.
Because of the Clean Air Act, Bachmann said, some regions have made noticeable improvements in air quality.
“I’ll tell you, much of the eastern United States has seen a dramatic improvement in air quality, and if you look at pictures of what the sky look used to look like in Ohio – especially near the Ohio River Valley in the ’80s – and compare it to today, there’s no comparison,” he said. “It’s much, much better. I drive through there all the time.”
An independent panel of scientists recently concluded that the EPA’s current standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter for fine particulates isn’t enough to protect human health, but Bachmann predicts the EPA is likely to maintain that the current standards are sufficient.