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EPA Won't Tighten Air Standards; Experts Warn of Health Issues

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Early studies from researchers at Harvard University found a small increase in long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate. (Adobe Stock)
Early studies from researchers at Harvard University found a small increase in long-term exposure to air pollution can lead to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate. (Adobe Stock)
May 26, 2020

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The Environmental Protection Agency says it plans to leave current limits on air pollution unchanged, but critics say the particle pollution standards aren't strict enough and put human health at risk.

John Bachmann is a former associate director for science policy at the EPA's Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards and current member of the Environmental Protection Network. He said there is mounting evidence particulate matter can cause serious harm - even in small amounts.

"What EPA has found over the years is there is a causal relationship between fine particles, mortality, hospital admissions - especially for people who are elderly, who have pre-existing conditions, especially cardiovascular disease," Bachmann said.

The EPA has argued the current science doesn't prove that reducing particulate matter can improve public health. The agency is holding a public hearing via teleconference on the proposal to retain the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter on Wednesday.

Bachmann said the decision is a departure from the norm, noting the agency historically has tightened air-quality standards every time they were up for review.

"Starting in 1997, if you want to look at it that way, the data got stronger, and in each year, either new or more stringent standards were set," he said.

He said the decision potentially could lead to more chronic health conditions and premature deaths in communities with higher levels of air-pollution exposure, and said preliminary research indicates survivors of serious COVID-19 illness may be more susceptible to air pollution.

"So in both directions, you have COVID making people more susceptible, air pollution - if you've been exposed to it for several years - making people more likely to die of COVID," he said. "It's a terrible combination."

The deadline to submit public comments on the EPA's proposal to maintain current air-pollution standards is June 29.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - AR