Americans Win Protection from Toxic Air Pollution

EPA to set emission standards for 28 polluting industries

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In 1970, the Clean Air Act first took aim at toxic air emissions from industrial facilities across the United States. Forty years later, it finally hit a major target.

Actually, 28 major targets. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today agreed to review and update Clean Air Act rules that rein in emissions of nearly 200 hazardous air pollutants released by 28 kinds of industrial facilities.

All those numbers will translate to one important thing: fewer toxic pollutants in our air that are linked to cancer, birth defects, anemia, nervous system damage, lung and respiratory ailments, and other illnesses. The 28 categories of industrial facilities include pesticide production operations, pharmaceutical plants and lead smelters.

Today’s commitment came as part of an agreement to resolve a case brought by Earthjustice on behalf of Sierra Club at the end of the Bush administration. "For too many years, Americans have waited for EPA to update and strengthen these standards. Now EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is committing to act on a long list of air toxics standards to protect people from serious health problems caused by air pollution," said Jane Williams, Chair of the Sierra Club National Air Toxics Taskforce. "We applaud her decision to take action so that people exposed every day to toxic industrial pollution will finally have the chance to receive the basic health protections promised by the Clean Air Act."

Many people probably aren’t even aware of the existence or locations of such facilities, let alone the ins and outs of their operations. And we certainly don’t see the invisible-to-the-naked-eye pollutants they release. But for the people who do live near these facilities, breathing so much toxic air is a reality that they know all too well. Even if we are unaware, we all probably inhale these toxic compounds at some level and our health is put at risk.

It is essential to control toxic air pollution wherever it hides, and EPA’s new action should bring greater protection to all of our communities. For low-income and neighborhoods of color that have a disproportionate number of these facilities, this relief has been an especially long time coming. EPA’s action will hopefully address the tremendous burden toxic air pollution places on health and well-being.

Earthjustice attorney Emma Cheuse had this to say about the announcement: "Under Administrator Jackson’s leadership, we hope and expect that EPA’s new action on air toxics should reap rewards for years to come in local communities now under assault by toxic air pollution. Strong Clean Air Act standards will reduce cancer risks and prevent other environmental health problems. No one should ever have to face health risks just because they live, work, or go to school near a polluting facility."

As EPA moves forward on this issue, it will surely want to hear feedback from the public. We’ll keep you posted on how to urge EPA to set strong limits on toxic pollution to clean our air and protect our health.

Sam Edmondson was a campaign manager on air toxics issues from 2010 until 2012. He helped organize the first 50 States United for Healthy Air event. His desire to work at an environmental organization came from the belief that if we don't do something to change our unsustainable ways, we are in big trouble.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.