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Protecting Lives, Lungs from Soot

Deadly fine particulate matter, also known as soot, is caused by pollution from tailpipes, smokestacks and industrial power plants.

Deadly fine particulate matter, also known as soot, is caused by pollution from tailpipes, smokestacks and industrial power plants. Breathing soot can cause premature death, heart disease and lung damage.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

What's at Stake

Soot pollution is deadly—leading to tens of thousands of premature deaths every year. After years of delay by the EPA, Earthjustice is seeking to defend stronger pollution limits on this major threat to public health.

Case Overview

Deadly fine particulate matter, also known as soot, is caused by pollution from tailpipes, smokestacks and industrial power plants. Breathing soot can cause premature death, heart disease and lung damage. It has also been linked with developmental and reproductive harms.

In 2009, Earthjustice successfully argued that the 2006 standard was not adequate and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's had to follow the science and protect people health. The EPA then adopted a more health protective annual standard for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) which was overwhelmingly supported by extensive evidence of health effects evidence and will result in significant national health benefits, including the prevention of thousands of premature deaths each year. Numerous studies published in the last decade showing that PM2.5 causes cardiovascular, respiratory, and other harms at lower ambient levels.

PM2.5 is a lethal airborne pollutant that causes premature death and a host of other significant health harms. Sources of PM2.5 include emissions from motor vehicles and diesel engines, coal-fired power plants, and other industrial sources. Not surprisingly, elevated levels of PM2.5 pollution are found in and near metropolitan areas with high traffic. The particles that make up PM2.5 are microscopic, enabling them to lodge deep within the lungs where they cause cardiovascular problems like heart attacks and strokes, respiratory disease and asthma exacerbation, and death. Those with preexisting lung or heart disease, elderly persons, children, and individuals with low socioeconomic status are most susceptible to the threats posed by PM2.5 pollution.

In 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected industry challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency's strengthened clean air standard for fine particulate matter. The court found that EPA’s decision to require the placement of air monitors near heavily trafficked roadways in major urban areas to capture the elevated levels of PM2.5 to which people are being exposed was well supported by the record, comports with the Clean Air Act and is justified to adequately protect people living and spending time near roads. The court also rejected related industry challenges to a requirement that states monitor soot levels near heavily-trafficked roads.

Earthjustice intervened in this lawsuit to support EPA in defending the standard from challenges brought by industry. Earthjustice represented the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.

Case Updates

October 2, 2014 | Blog Post

California: A Terrible Place To Breathe

The Golden State claimed all five of the top slots for the highest air pollution in the American Lung Association's 2014 State of the Air Report.

December 14, 2012 | Press Release

EPA Acts to Protect Lives, Lungs from Soot

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted protections that will slash the amount of soot allowed in our air, improving air quality for millions of Americans. This move by the EPA comes in response to legal action filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the American Lung Association and the National Parks Conservation Association asking that the EPA follow the Clean Air Act’s requirements to protect the public’s health and well-being.