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EPA Announces Plans to Change Air Standards to Protect Overly-Impacted Communities

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced a new proposal made to combat air pollution. 

Published on Jan. 6, the newly released proposal will focus on tightening the limits on soot, choosing to strengthen the level of fine particle pollution. With its new rules, the EPA will have this rate go from an annual average of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air to between nine and 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air. 

Although the daily exposure limit is expected to remain unchanged, the EPA estimates that, with the new change, nearly 4,200 premature deaths and 270,000 lost workdays will be avoided each year. Nearly $43 billion will also be saved with the fewer hospitalization rates. 

With the new proposal already being released, the agency’s next step is to hold an online public hearing for remarks regarding the proposed rule changes. Public comments will also be taken after it is officially published, according to the EPA.

“Our work to deliver clean, breathable air for everyone is a top priority at EPA, and this proposal will help ensure that all communities, especially the most vulnerable among us, are protected from exposure to harmful pollution,” said Michael S. Regan, the EPA Administrator, per a public statement. “This proposal to deliver stronger health protections against particulate matter is grounded in the best available science, advancing the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to scientific integrity and a rigorous scientific process.”

While pollution is a global issue, in the U.S., Black communities are among the communities that are most affected. In a newly published study, researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that neighborhoods with predominantly Black, Hispanic, Asian or Latino populations are subjected to higher levels of air pollution. 

Looking at data from 2000 to 2016, the researchers found that the average rate of fine particle pollution in Black neighborhoods was nearly 14% more than the rate in white neighborhoods. As the percentage of the Black population increased in a neighborhood, the concentration of fine particle pollution also increased in proportion, particularly amongst communities where 85% of the neighborhood was Black.

“Our findings regarding relative disparities indicate the importance of strong, targeted air-pollution-reduction strategies, not only to reduce overall air-pollution levels but also to move closer toward the EPA’s aim to provide all people with the same degree of protection from environmental hazards,” said the first author of the study, Abdulrahman Jbaily, in a statement.

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