More than 160 environmental, public health and justice organizations signed a letter urging the Biden administration to move forward with stricter regulations on fine particulate matter, or soot — a form of harmful air pollution.
The White House’s Office of Management and Budget missed a Nov. 14 deadline by which it was supposed to have reviewed recommendations for new soot standards the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had submitted 90 days previously. The process to adopt more stringent rules cannot go on to the next steps — a public comment period and finalization — without that interagency review.
“Every day delayed means more people affected—more people of color and more children affected,” Raul Garcia, legislative director for Healthy Communities at Earthjustice, said Tuesday on a press call hosted by the Climate Action Campaign.
According to the EPA’s Policy Assessment, exposure to soot at the levels allowable by the current standards (set in 2012) leads to tens of thousands of excess deaths in the U.S. every year.
“We need this standard so that children can actually live and breathe air that isn’t going to kill them,” Garcia said.
The Office of Management and Budget declined to comment.
Soot, also known as fine particulate matter or PM2.5, consists of incredibly tiny solid and liquid particles in the air. It can come from a number of sources, including construction sites, fires or unpaved roads, but is most commonly caused by motor vehicles, oil refining, industrial fuel, or coal burning.
Because the particles are so small, soot can enter people’s lungs and bloodstream. Exposure to it has been linked to a wide range of health issues, including asthma, heart attacks, Parkinson’s and lung disease. Fine particulate pollution causes between 85,000 and 200,000 excess deaths yearly in the United States, according to a 2018 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.
Dr. Garfield Ashford Dwight Clunie, president of the African American physicians’ organization the National Medical Association, also spoke on the Climate Action Campaign press call. He cited recent research from the American Lung Association that found more than 20 million Americans live in counties that exceed annual limits for soot pollution.
The American Lung Association gave the D.C. area a “C” on daily fine particulate matter pollution earlier this year. It was the first time in more than 15 years that the region saw a higher number of days with particle spikes than the previous year.
As with many forms of air pollution, people of color are more likely to be exposed to soot than white people, regardless of income level. Garcia pointed out that the Biden administration has made environmental justice a key part of its agenda. However, in a letter addressed to President Joe Biden, the Climate Action Campaign pointed out that “polluters secured additional meetings — sometimes more than once — further delaying the process” of completing the rulemaking process.
“This has to become a top priority,” Garcia said. “We need to make sure there aren’t any political games.”