If the air you’re breathing today is healthy, the Clean Air Act likely played a part in that. You can help continue that legacy by telling the EPA to strengthen our clean air protections.
Originally enacted in 1963 and significantly strengthened over the next five decades, the Clean Air Act is among the most significant accomplishments of the environmental movement. Since its enactment, air pollution in the United States has declined dramatically — helping people from coast to coast live healthier, longer lives.
One of the key mechanisms of the Clean Air Act is the National Ambient Air Quality Standards or NAAQS. These standards control the maximum allowable concentration of certain dangerous pollutants in the air outside. The Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that every level of government is working to make sure there isn’t a harmful amount of these pollutants in the air we breathe. And when there’s new science that shows that air pollution is more dangerous than previously thought, the EPA must revisit and strengthen the NAAQS to reflect that.
The EPA is poised to do this for two pollutants, ozone and particulate matter, in the coming year. Join us in calling on the EPA to accelerate this work and implement the strongest possible clean air protections.
The EPA will first consider issuing new standards for particulate matter. Particulate matter is a menace to our health. It consists of particles suspended in the air, usually less than 10 micrometers (that’s 0.001 centimeters, or 30 times smaller than the diameter of a single strand of hair) in diameter. These tiny particles lodge themselves deep in our lungs and bloodstream and can cause respiratory disease, heart disease, and even premature death. A powerful body of science shows that the current NAAQS allow levels of particulate matter that cause these harms.
The EPA will then consider issuing new standards for ozone. Yes, ozone is a pollutant — but it’s a little different than the ozone you’ve probably heard of before. Ozone in the stratosphere, the layer of atmosphere right above the air we breathe, is incredibly important and keeps us safe from the sun’s harmful radiation. But when ozone forms near the ground, it exacerbates the climate crisis and creates smog that’s deeply harmful to human health. Well-established scientific studies show that ozone levels that meet the current NAAQS damage the environment and cause breathing problems.
Ozone and particulate matter are a threat to everyone’s health — more than 123 million people breathe dangerous levels of ozone — but communities of color experience disproportionate exposure. People of color are over three times more likely to breathe air with dangerous levels of ozone and particulate matter. This is not a coincidence, it is the result of decades of local, state, and federal policy that has deliberately concentrated fossil fuel extraction and combustion corridors, like highways, in communities of color to keep pollution out of White communities.
The EPA has a real opportunity to advance environmental justice by strengthening the NAAQS for ozone and particulate matter — we just need to convince the EPA to act with the urgency that the air quality crisis requires. Join us in calling on the EPA to work as quickly as possible to develop and implement ozone and particulate matter standards that will ensure everyone has healthy air to breathe.