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Soot Pollution 101

Soot Pollution 101

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Jackie Weidman and Susannah Marshall explain what soot is, how it harms public health, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s new standards to reduce the pollution, which are open to public comment.
Jackie Weidman and Susannah Marshall explain what soot is, how it harms public health, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s new standards to reduce the pollution, which are open to public comment.

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Published by: Center for American Progress on Aug 09, 2012
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1Center for American Progress | Soot Pollution 101
Soot Pollution 101
What You Need to Know and How You Can Help Prevent It
Jackie Weidman and Susannah Marshall August 10, 2012
Earlier his summer heEnvironmenal Proecion Agency proposed updaed clean-airsandards ha will preven ens o housands o premaure deahs. Te proposal comesin response olegal acioncalling upon he EPA o updae nal regulaions or pariclepolluion. Tis rule is in line wih he Clean Air Ac’s requiremens o proec publichealh and improve air qualiy.Paricle polluion, commonly reerred o as “soo,” is one o he deadlies orms o airpolluion. Tis 101 deails why i is essenial ha he EPA adops he srices rules pos-sible o proec Americans rom he dangers o breahing hese paricles.
What is soot?
Soo is he common erm or a ype o paricle pol-luion called PM 2.5—pariculae mater ha is 2.5micromeers in diameer or smaller. Suchne par-iclesare even smaller han dus and mold paricles,or approximaely 1/30 o he size o a human hair.I is comprised o a variey o polluans, includingchemicals, acids, meals, soils, and dus, which aresuspended in he air aer emission. Soo can comein solid, liquid, or gaseous (“aerosols”) saes.
How is soot produced?
Soo is a byproduc o burning ossil uels, paricularly coal. I is emited by a variey o sources, including burning coal or elecriciy or indusrial uel, manuacuring, oil ren-ing, and moor vehicles.
FIGURE 1
How big is particle pollution?
 
PM 2.5
Soot particle
PM 10
Dust particle
PM 50-70
Human hair
PM 90
Fine beach sandPM = picometer
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
 
2Center for American Progress | Soot Pollution 101
Soo is released ino he air as eiher exremely small paricles or liquid droples. Somesolid paricles are emited direcly ino he air while ohers are ormed when gases ormparicles as hey are carried housands o miles rom polluion sources.
Why is soot a problem for public health?
Soo poses remendous harms o public healh, paricularly because o is size.Pariculae mater is so small ha i can easily ener your lungs and bloodsream, poen-ially causing damage in a number o ways.Te Environmenal Proecion Agency describes he process o soo harming hehuman body:
 Microscopic paricles can penerae deep ino he lungs and have been linked o a widerange o serious healh efecs, including premaure deah, hear atacks, and srokes, aswell as acue bronchiis and aggravaed ashma among children.
Te American Lung Associaionadds ha breahing paricle polluion can poenially cause “cancer and developmenal and reproducive harm.”Nearly 6 million people in he Unied Saes live in an area wih unhealhy year-roundlevels o paricle polluion.Te mos vulnerable members o he populaion are chil-dren, he elderly, low-income communiies, and people wih pre-exising hear and lungdiseases. Healhy aduls, however, can also sufer rom is adverse efecs.
Why is soot an environmental problem?
Soo causes several environmenal problems, such as haze and he
 
acidicaion o lakesand rivers.Haze is ormed when sunligh ineracs wih small paricles in he amosphere. Soo is heprimary cause o haze, which severely decreases visibiliy in U.S. ciies and naional parks. As a resul he EPA esimaes ha visibiliy innaional parksand oher scenic areas in heeasern Unied Saes has been reduced rom a 90-mile disance o jus 15–25 miles.Fine paricle polluion negaively impacs he naural beauy o such naional reasures by robbing us o color, disance, and hue, and negaively harms he healh o visiors and resi-dens. Haze can also hur ourism by discouraging visis, which causes economic damage.Paricle polluion is also correlaed o acid rain. Te same compounds rom soo hareac in he air o orm haze—sulur dioxides and nirogen oxides—can mix wih amo-
 
3Center for American Progress | Soot Pollution 101
spheric moisure o acidiy precipiaion. Carried by he wind or in he waer, his acidi-ed polluion degrades waer qualiy by making lakes and rivers more acidic, depleinghe nuriens in he soil and damaging sensiive arm crops, and changing he nurien balance in river basins, along coaslines, and in oress. Acidicaion hrough soo polluioncan also sain sone and erode i, slowly discoloringand damaging imporan naional monumens and iconic buildings.
Why is the EPA acting now?
 A coaliion o saes and clean-air organizaions sued he EPA or no updaing is sooemissions sandards wihin ve years, as i is required o do by he Clean Air Ac.TeU.S. Disric Cour or he Disric o Columbia old he EPA o issue new sandards by  June 2012 o proec public healh and comply wih he Clean Air Ac. In accordance wih his ruling, he EPA issued he new Air Qualiy Sandards or Paricle Polluion.
What does the new rule do?
Te curren limi is 15 μg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meer o air), which was nalized in2006. Te EPA proposed o reduce he soo limi o beween 12 and 13 μg/m3, or a reduc-ion o up o 20 percen. Tis saeguard would ake efec by 2020. I would also addiionally se a new sandard or visibiliy in urban areas, which will eiher be 28 or 30 deciviews.Exising sandards or coarse paricle polluion—paricles ha are beween 2.5 and 10micromeers in diameer—will no change.
Who will be affected by the new rule?
Emission reducions will be required rom vehicles, power plans, and saionary dieselengines. Te EPA will solicireporsrom saes o deermine wheher hey meerequiremens se orh by he new rule. Te EPA will deermine which saes are in com-pliance wih he rule by he end o 2014. Ten, saes will have unil 2020 o mee hehealh sandards. Saes may reques exensions unil 2025 on a case-by-case basis.Te EPA esimaes, however, ha 99 percen o U.S. counies will be in compliance wihhe rule wihou adopion o addiional polluion-conrol measures. Tis is primarily  because o oher recen Clean Air Ac rulesha will also lead o reducions in soo, includ-ing he cross-sae air polluion rule and he regulaions o cu mercury and air oxics.

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