Right now, Trump’s EPA is ignoring current science on particle pollution that could save thousands of lives each year. As part of a relentless series of rollbacks being implemented under cover of the coronavirus pandemic, EPA has proposed to retain the current, too-weak standards for particle pollution, or deadly soot. EPA should instead be following its mandate to protect human health by strengthening national standards for this deadly pollutant.
What is particle pollution? Particle pollution is made up of tiny bits of airborne solids and liquids. It’s also called particulate pollution, particulate matter, soot, or PM 2.5 (so-named for the size of the particles, which are less than 2.5 microns in width – a tiny fraction of the width of a human hair). Whatever you call it, particle pollution is deadly. The smaller the particles, the more harmful the pollution. These particles – so small they can only be seen with a microscope – can pass directly into the bloodstream when breathed into the lungs, triggering serious health conditions, including a shortened life span, or premature death. In the US, particle pollution is responsible for 85,000 deaths each year.
Where does particle pollution come from? Particle pollution is a result of burning fossil fuels and other organic material. It can come from many sources, including the tailpipes of cars and trucks, diesel engines, factories, coal-fired power plants, and wildfires.
What are the health effects of particle pollution? Particle pollution causes premature death, heart attacks, strokes, heart disease, congestive heart failure, and asthma attacks. It has also been linked to lung cancer, premature birth, low birth weight, dementia, diabetes and other serious health problems. Preliminary research indicates that long-term exposure to particle pollution may increase the risk of death from Covid-19.
How much particle pollution am I breathing? Most US counties are meeting federal standards for particle pollution. However, some places in California, Idaho, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are not. Find out which areas are not meeting the federal standards for particle pollution here.
But, just because you live in a place that is meeting federal standards, doesn’t mean the air you are breathing is safe. That’s because the current standards are not strong enough to protect us from the health harms of particle pollution. The annual average level for particle pollution is set at 12 mcg/m3 (micrograms per square meter). The latest science suggests that, in order to protect public health with an adequate margin of safety, the level should be set somewhere between 8 and 10.
To find out how much particle pollution you are breathing:
- On Airnow.gov, using your ZIP code, you can see current air quality in your area. You can also see air pollution trends for the past 24 hours, the preceding week, and the preceding month. Finally, you can see a map of air quality monitors near you; note that many areas do not have nearby air pollution monitors, so it’s good to find out where your closest monitor is. The World Air Quality Index Project also offers real-time air quality data and trends presented with amazing graphics – for any city on Earth.
- Each year, the American Lung Association releases a State of the Air report, which compiles EPA air quality data. You can learn which cities are the most (and least) polluted, as well as learn about how your state is doing at the county level. (Make sure to click on the “Particle Pollution” tab.)
- Find out how your state is doing compared to every other state, with a ranked table and interactive map from the United Health Foundation.
- If you want more information, check your local air quality agency. Many of these agencies have information readily available online about the air you are breathing where you live, including local sources of pollution.
- If you want to get even more detailed, check out EPA’s resources. EPA assigns a specific particle pollution level to each county, based on monitors and models. The agency calls this the “design value.” Find your county’s design value through this site. The current annual average level of particulate pollution is set at 12. There is strong evidence that the level should be set at somewhere between 8-10. How is your county doing?