Californians Speak Out for Cleaner Air

Too often when we think about air pollution, we don’t think about what that suffering is really like and that people are dying from an inability to breathe. And often we focus on these numbers and … forget that there are lives that are attached to this.

—Paul Cort, Earthjustice attorney

In July 2012, members of the public shared personal and emotional testimony in downtown Sacramento. The public hearing was focused on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to further limit emissions of deadly air pollution. Fine particle—also known as 'soot'—pollution sickens and kills tens of thousands of Californians every year.

EJ90 logo.

Listen to audio from the EPA hearing on the environmental news podcast EJ90:


Rally goers in Sacramento's Cesar Chavez Plaza Park, across the street from the EPA hearing on proposed regulation for fine particle pollution, commonly called soot. The black balloons represent soot pollution.

The hearing gave medical health professionals, community members, industry representatives and other concerned citizens an opportunity to speak to the agency about proposed pollution levels for soot.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

Earthjustice staff attorney Paul Cort speaks at the public hearing.

The EPA was directed by a federal judge to stop its foot-dragging and release a proposal by mid-June 2012, the result of a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the American Lung Association and National Parks Conservation Association.

Under a settlement agreement reached with the groups, the EPA has agreed to issue a final standard by December 14, 2012.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

An attendee at the hearing wears stickers, written in both English and Spanish, in support of strong clean air rules.

Some of the Hispanic communities in California’s Central Valley are seriously affected by soot pollution. The top five most polluted U.S. cities for both year-round and short-term particle pollution are all in California.

Despite recent improvements to air quality, soot still poses a major threat to public health.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

Respiratory therapist Kevin Hamilton, left, speaks at the hearing, while fellow clean air advocate Kevin Hall, right, listens.

Hall is the director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition.

In a statement, Hall said: "California's Central Valley is ground zero for fine particle pollution. We are inundated with this deadly stuff on a daily basis … The EPA should have acted to clean this problem up a long time ago."

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

Members of Latinos United for Clean Air speak at the hearing.

The major sources of soot in California are industrial agricultural operations, diesel exhaust and wood burning. Nationwide, coal plants and other major industrial processes are additional significant sources.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

Concerned citizens, health professionals, environmental advocates and others gathered for the rally outside of the hearing.

Both short-term (daily) and long-term (annual) exposure to soot can cause health problems. As a result, the EPA is required to set a combination standard to protect the public against both exposure types.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

Jaxin Woodward, a young long distance runner who also has asthma, speaks at the rally about her dreams of being a champion runner and how air pollution and asthma are affecting those dreams.

Soot pollution sickens and kills tens of thousands of Californians every year. By issuing stronger limits on this known killer, the EPA could reduce asthma and heart attacks, strokes, hospital visits and prevent more than 8,000 premature deaths in California alone.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

Physician Harry Wang, a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, speaks at the rally about how soot pollution affects people’s health and the need for strong EPA regulations on the pollutant.

In 2011, Dr. Wang traveled to Washington D.C. as a Clean Air Ambassador, meeting with members of Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Obama administration to speak out for strong protections against pollution that is harmful to our health.

Dr. Wang said, "Soot pollution harms the most vulnerable among us—our kids, the elderly, people with lung and heart disease, and families living in poverty … Since nobody makes it through a day without breathing, everybody will benefit if the EPA takes strong action."

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

Vickie Simmons, a member of the Moapa Band of Paiutes, speaks about how a local coal plant—Reid Gardner Power Station—and its coal pollution and coal ash are causing air pollution problems in her community near Las Vegas, NV.

Watch a video about the Moapa Band of Paiutes.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

The microscopic size of soot, also known as fine particulate matter, allows it to lodge deep within the lung.

Particle pollution does not just make people die a few days earlier than they might otherwise—these are deaths that would not have occurred if the air were cleaner.

The Clean Air Act requires that the EPA protect public health with an adequate margin of safety.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

More Photo Slideshows:

Of all the places Earthjustice works to protect, few are as iconic and misunderstood as the Arctic. View a slideshow of Florian Schulz's Arctic photography, showcasing the beauty of the Arctic and the threats the region faces from industrialization and climate change.
Founded in 1998, AIDA is an environmental law organization that protects threatened ecosystems and the human communities that depend on them.
View photos of Port Clyde fishermen, and learn how they are bringing back a way of life that balances fishing, while maintaining local fish resources in a sustainable way.
For generations, visitors have flocked to the Endless Mountains in Northeast Pennsylvania to enjoy the region's river gateways and quaint rural villages. But the Central New York Oil and Gas Company wants to install an industrial gas pipeline that would replace wooded mountains and pastoral landscapes with 39 miles of pipeline.