E.P.A. Sets a Lower Limit for Soot Particles in the Air

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency announced a new standard for soot pollution on Friday that will force industry, utilities and local governments to find ways to reduce emissions of particles that are linked to thousands of cases of disease and death each year.

The agency, acting under a court deadline, set an annual standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air, a significant tightening from the previous standard of 15 micrograms, set in 1997, which a federal court found too weak to adequately protect public health. The new standard is in the middle of the range of 11 to 13 micrograms per cubic meter that the E.P.A.’s science advisory panel recommended.

Communities must meet the new standard by 2020 or face possible penalties, including loss of federal transportation financing.

The E.P.A. based its action on health studies that found that exposure to fine particles — in this case measuring 2.5 micrometers in diameter — brought a marked increase in heart and lung disease, acute asthma attacks and early death. Older people, adults with heart and lung ailments and children are particularly susceptible to the ill effects.

The agency estimates the benefit of the new rule at $4 billion to $9 billion a year, and the annual costs of putting it into effect at $53 million to $350 million.

“These fine particles penetrate deep into the lungs, causing serious and costly health effects,” said Lisa P. Jackson, the E.P.A. administrator. “As the mother of two sons who have battled asthma, the benefits are not just numbers or abstract concepts.”

Today 66 counties in eight states do not meet the new standard, including the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, Houston, St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The E.P.A. estimates that by 2020, when the rule is fully in force, only seven counties, all of them in California, will still be out of compliance. Other current rules on mercury, sulfur and other pollution from vehicles, factories and power plants will cause that reduction.

“We know clearly that particle pollution is harmful at levels well below those previously deemed to be safe,” Dr. Norman H. Edelman, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association, said in a statement. “It will save lives,” he said.

Utility industry officials pleaded with the E.P.A. on Thursday to delay the release of the new rule, arguing that the standard is based on incomplete science and would impose costly new burdens on states and cities.

Read more at www.nytimes.com