Photo: Timothy A. Clark Agence France-Presse Thermal vehicles, industrial chimneys and forest fires are the most common sources of fine particles.
Issam Ahmed – Agence France-Presse in Washington
- United States
The administration of American President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that it would establish new air quality standards, necessary according to it to protect populations vulnerable to fine particles, but which provoke the ire of groups industrial.
The announcement comes months before a crucial presidential election, in which the Democratic president is expected to face his predecessor Donald Trump, who abolished dozens of air pollution standards during his term.
The new standard issued by the American Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, concerns fine particles, a widespread pollutant linked to health problems such as asthma, cardiovascular conditions, and others.
According to the new standard, levels of PM2.5 (particles of 2.5 micrometers and less) could not exceed an average annual level of 9 micrograms per cubic meter of air. A level lower than the 12 micrograms currently authorized — regulations already stricter than those of the European Union.
This measure represents “a major step forward to better protect workers, families, and the public from the dangerous and costly effects caused by fine particle pollution”, declared the head of the EPA, Michael Regan, during a conference call with the press.
Thermal vehicles, industrial chimneys and forest fires are the most common sources of fine particles.
The EPA estimates that the measure could prevent up to 4,500 premature deaths.
The agency further estimates that this could prevent up to 290,000 lost work days and generate up to $46 billion in net health benefits in 2032, the first year in which American states will have to respect these new standards.
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The announcement was welcomed by environmental and health associations.
“The scientific research on this type of pollution is so strong…,” said Abigail Dillen, president of the environmental law NGO Earthjustice, citing the role of fine particles in “premature deaths caused by heart attacks”, or even in “pediatric and adult asthma”, and “many other diseases”.
“We couldn’t be more grateful” for this measure, she added.
Industry groups have said the new standard would threaten manufacturing production in the United States, and the issue promises to be a new battleground in some key upstream states of the November presidential election.
“The standards will hinder reshoring, leading to the maintenance of manufacturing production abroad, which is less (environmentally friendly) than manufacturing production in the United States,” launched the National Association of Manufacturers a year ago, when this new standard was mentioned.
A major source of air pollution, the paper industry — represented by American Forest & Paper Association — also opposes the decision.
But the EPA disputes these associations' accusations, estimating that 99% of US counties would be in compliance by 2032, due to a downward trend in air pollution thanks to other measures.
The agency adds that American states could obtain exemptions for exceptional circumstances in the event of forest fires. A natural disaster whose frequency is expected to increase with climate change.