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EPA Faces Mixed Response Over Tighter Standards for Soot

Highways are hot spots for soot, fine particulate matter that has major effects on people's health.
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Highways are hot spots for soot, fine particulate matter that has major effects on people's health.

The federal government is gathering public feedback on proposed revisions to air-quality standards for soot, and environmental voices in Wisconsin and elsewhere said they show promise but need to be stronger.

For the first time in a decade, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed updating the standard for soot, the fine particulate matter linked to asthma, heart disease and even early death. The proposal brings the annual standard down from 12 micrograms per cubic meter to a level between nine and 10.

Jadine Sonoda, campaign coordinator for the Sierra Club-Wisconsin, said it is a step in the right direction, but still inefficient in addressing the effects of the pollutant.

"I think it's a huge, missed opportunity," Sonoda contended. "There are so many folks who don't have to be impacted by this that we could help protect."

The agency said the plan reflects the latest health data and scientific evidence, but it is accepting feedback based on other suggestions as well. Opponents of updating the standard in the manufacturing industry said they are already leading the way to improve air quality and do not need additional rules. The agency is holding public hearings this week and accepting public comment until March 28.

An independent scientific advisory committee for the EPA had recommended a standard between eight and 10 micrograms per cubic meter.

Patrick Drupp, director of climate policy for the Sierra Club, said that's what the agency should be going with, noting soot pollution is a big issue across the country.

"Over 63 million Americans live with unhealthy particle pollution spikes, and 20 million live with dangerous levels of particle pollution year-round," Drupp reported. "It's not a small amount of people who are impacted by this."

Sonoda noted with Wisconsin still home to several coal-fired power plants, there is greater concern about the communities surrounding the facilities, having to deal with issues such as coal dust.

"Any of these industrial sites emitting pollution such as this, there'll be local impacts and folks who are bearing the brunt of the negative outcomes," Sonoda pointed out.

The group added the industrial sites are often located near marginalized communities, perpetuating environmental injustice.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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