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Experts Say Arizonans' Health Riding on Strong Soot Rules

GRAPHIC: The cover of the Sick Of Soot: How The EPA Can Save Lives By Cleaning Up Fine Particle Air Pollution report.
GRAPHIC: The cover of the Sick Of Soot: How The EPA Can Save Lives By Cleaning Up Fine Particle Air Pollution report.
September 7, 2012

PHOENIX - After collecting around 400,000 comments from people concerned about soot pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency is in the final stages of crafting new rules to curb the amount of soot in the air we breathe. The move gets strong support from physicians such as pediatrician Dr. Denise Salerno, who says exposure to soot is a major health concern, especially for children.

"Short term, we can see irritation to their eyes, we can see exacerbations in people with chronic lung disease, especially asthma, which we see a lot of in children. It can cause things such as headaches, nausea, allergic-type reactions."

Dr. Salerno says a major problem with soot is that it's difficult to say that any amount is less than harmful.

"We don't really know the threshold below which is safe and doesn't have an effect on people's health, so I don't think that we could say that within this many miles, or within this threshold, everyone's fine."

Peter Iwanowicz, director of the Clean Air Campaign for the American Lung Association, disputes some of the comments heard during testimony from opponents who feel new rules are unnecessary.

"We saw oil industry representatives at public hearings this summer saying a little soot is actually OK for you. Scientists tell us that's not the truth. Soot is a killer: it triggers disease and we're really shocked to see industry try to trot out these arguments for further delay in cleaning up soot standards."

The American Lung Association says long-term soot exposure contributes to and causes chronic respiratory illnesses. Some studies have shown that it is associated with lung cancer and heart disease, and causes tens of thousands of premature deaths annually. The EPA needs to determine what levels of soot pollution are acceptable and identify likely sources of that pollution. The rule has to be in place by the end of December.

In Arizona, typical soot sources include fossil-fuel power plants and motor vehicles, especially those with Diesel engines.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ