EPA Tightens Daily Soot Standard

By Jim Gillam

Originally published in SNEWS - The Chimney Sweep News, November 2006

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted a new Federal standard on September 21 for the allowable amount of fine particulate in a 24-hour period, reducing it by almost half. The new standard allows 35 micrograms of particulate matter with a diameter below 2.5 microns, known as PM2.5.

EPA’s Administrator Stephen Johnson rejected a proposal to strengthen the annual PM2.5 standard. The agency was under a court-ordered deadline to adopt new regulations based on periodic review of the best available science.

Air quality monitoring device collects fine particles (PM2.5) near Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Photo by Jim Gillam,
The Chimney Sweep News

Particulate matter (PM) is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. Particulate matter can be directly emitted, as in smoke from a fire, or it can form in the atmosphere from reactions of gases such as sulfur dioxide.

The tighter standard is expected to result in more areas being designated as “non-attainment” by the EPA. These areas include most of the major metropolitan areas east of the Mississippi River, the San Joaquin Valley and most of Southern California, and a few other counties in the West.

Nonattainment designations made in December 2004 are now effective for 39 areas comprised of 208 counties across the country [see map].

map courtesy of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The more stringent daily standard will make it more difficult for these areas to “attain” air quality that meets minimum federal standards.

Areas not meeting federal minimum air quality standards are required to enact measures intended to improve air quality enough to meet those standards. Communities facing air quality problems with particulate pollution often choose to restrict residential woodburning and installation of woodburning appliances. Under current law, such areas are required to “attain” acceptable air quality by 2015, with a possible extension until 2020.

“It’s going to take diligence on everyone’s part to meet this new standard,” said Larry Calkins, an air quality specialist with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Tightening of the daily standard was deplored by representatives of the electric utility industry, while health and environmental groups criticized the move as too lenient and lamented the lack of action on the annual standard.

Numerous studies have associated fine particulate matter with a variety of respiratory and cardiovascular problems, ranging from aggravated asthma, to irregular heartbeats, heart attacks, and early death in people with heart or lung disease. Particle pollution can also contribute to visibility impairment.

EPA has had national air quality standards for fine particles since 1997 and for coarse particles 10 micrometers and smaller (PM10) since 1987.


This article originally appeared in the November 2006 issue of SNEWS - The Chimney Sweep News.
The Chimney Sweep News is an independent trade journal for chimney professionals.
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