Researchers call for the EPA to set stricter air quality standards to protect communities

June 12, 2020

By Catherine Morrow 

Current standards for fine particulate matter set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are insufficient to protect public health, researchers say in a recently published article in New England Journal of Medicine.

After the EPA disbanded a committee designed to review and regulate fine particulate matter levels (PM2.5), the former team comprised of researchers and scientists created The Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel to address critical shortcomings in reviewing the epidemiological and toxicological evidence.

PM2.5 refers to airborne particles two-and-a-half microns or less in diameter that are often hazardous to human health, and can cause premature death, lung, and respiratory issues and heart disease.

A member of the Independent Matter Review Panel, Jeremy Sarnat, ScD, associate professor of environmental health at the Rollins School of Public Health, says that he is concerned that the current fine particulate matter air quality standards set by the EPA allow tens of thousands of premature deaths each year in the U.S.

“The standards should protect not just the general public, but also populations at increased risk of harm because of factors that include proximity to sources, age, and disease status,” says Sarnat. “There are also environmental justice concerns because of disparities in health risk borne by minority communities.”

The EPA’s Clean Air Act sets an annual average of 12 μg per cubic meter and a 24-hour average of 35 μg per cubic meter for PM2.5. However, the authors point to scientific evidence showing considerable premature deaths occurring at levels below current standard and recommend a revised level between 8 to 10 μg per cubic meter for a new standard would protect the general public and at-risk groups.