EPA Issues New, Tighter Standard for Fine Particle Pollution

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized an update to its national air quality standards for fine particle pollution – also known as “PM 2.5” – setting the annual health-based standard at 12 micrograms per cubic meter.  EPA issued the new standard on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012.  The existing daily standards for both fine particles and for coarse particles (PM10) remain unchanged.

Fine particle pollution can penetrate deep into the lungs and has been linked to a wide range of serious health effects, particularly among children and the elderly.  A federal court ruling required EPA to update the standard based on the best available science.  Ninety-nine percent of all U.S. counties are projected to meet the standard without any additional action, according to EPA.

How will Kentucky be affected by the new rule?  “It all depends on our air monitoring data”, said Division for Air Quality (DAQ) director John Lyons.  Counties not meeting the new standard may be designated as “nonattainment” based on a three-year average of air monitoring data of PM2.5.  The current three-year average (2009-2011) indicates monitors in Bullitt, Daviess, and Jefferson counties are exceeding the standard – but that may change by the time attainment designations are finalized.   “At this point,” said Lyons, “we only have quality assured data through June of 2012, so it is too early to tell which counties may ultimately be recommended for nonattainment.”

Once the ruling is published in the Federal Register (late February 2012), DAQ will be required to recommend to EPA which counties, if any, should be designated nonattainment by December, 2013.  One year later, EPA will then decide which counties to designate as nonattainment.   If any counties are designated as nonattainment at that time, stricter permitting and transportation standards will be implemented until the area is back into compliance.  Kentucky will have three years to get back into compliance for any area not meeting the standard.