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EPA proposes tighter limits on particulate matter air pollution

NRG Energy's W.A. Parish Electric Generating Station in Thompsons, Texas. Photo taken in 2011.
David J. Phillip
NRG Energy's W.A. Parish Electric Generating Station in Thompsons, Texas. Photo taken in 2011.

For the first time in over a decade, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing is proposing to tighten limits on particulate matter air pollution, which include coal soot, vehicle exhaust, and emissions from petrochemical factories.

Several health studies over the past several years have shown that children, older adults, and minority populations have worse health outcomes when they’re exposed to particulate matter in the air. The studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including premature death in people with heart or lung disease, asthma, and increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.

“It’s just a particularly deadly pollutant,” said Terry McGuire, who works with EarthJustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization.

“And you just see more lives saved when you start putting in protections in more places,” McGuire said.

The EPA is proposing to lower the limit of particulate matter from 12 ppm to 9 or 10, which is estimated to save several thousand lives per year. McGuire and other environmental advocates applaud the new proposal, but say it doesn’t go far enough. They want the limits set at 8.

The last time the EPA lowered the standard was in 2012.

Virginia’s air quality is better than most states. However, there aren’t regular monitors in most rural areas, so there could be pockets of poor air quality, like near coal mining regions in the southwestern part of the state.

The new limits would likely affect a lime processing plant in Giles County, which has been found to emit four times current air quality standards.

The EPA will accept public comments on the proposed rule for 60 days.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.