EPA Establishes Stricter Air Quality Standard

The EPA believes the stricter air quality standard will prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths and 290,000 lost workdays.


indoor air quality
Adobe Stock/Kira_Yan

The Biden-Harris Administration set a significantly stronger air quality standard to limit fine particle pollution, also known as soot. According to the New York Times, it’s been a decade since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tightened limits on soot pollution.

By tightening the annual health-based national ambient air quality standard for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from a level of 12 micrograms per cubic meter to nine micrograms per cubic meter, the EPA expects the standard to prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths and 290,000 lost workdays, yielding up to $46 billion in net health benefits in 2032.

Along with strengthening the primary annual PM2.5 standard, the EPA is modifying the PM2.5 monitoring network design criteria to include a factor that accounts for proximity of populations at increased risk of PM2.5-related health effects to sources of air pollution. This will advance environmental justice by ensuring localized data collection in overburdened areas to inform future NAAQS reviews.

The EPA has set two primary standards for PM2.5, which work together to protect public health: the annual standard, which EPA has revised, and a 24-hour standard, which the agency retained. EPA also retained the current primary 24-hour standard for PM10, which provides protection against coarse particles. EPA is also not changing the secondary (welfare-based) standards for fine particles and coarse particles at this time.

A broad and growing body of science links particle pollution to a range of serious and sometimes deadly illnesses. Many studies show that these microscopic fine particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and that long- and short-term exposure can lead to asthma attacks, missed days of school or work, heart attacks, expensive emergency room visits and premature death.

The EPA predicts that, due to steps already being taken to reduce dangerous pollution in communities across the country, 99% of U.S. counties are projected to meet the more protective standard in 2032. This is likely going to be the earliest year states would either need to meet the revised standard or face penalties.

Updates To Air Quality Index

The EPA is also revising the Air Quality Index to improve public communications about the health risks from PM2.5 exposures.

Some particulate matter is emitted directly from combustion sources, construction sites, industrial processes, and older diesel engines, while other particles are formed in the atmosphere in complex chemical reactions with other pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides that are emitted from power plants, gasoline and diesel engines, and certain industrial processes.

See more information on today’s final standards at Final Reconsideration of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter.

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