Metro DC and Baltimore Violate Soot Standards

Particulate matter has reached dangerous levels in the nation's capital


David Baron, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500, x220


Jared Saylor, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500, x238

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today labeled the Washington and Baltimore areas as violating a new, more protective health standard for airborne soot. As a result, State and local governments will have to adopt stronger limits on air pollution from power plants, factories, diesel engines, and cars.

The new soot standard is finally being implemented after being delayed for years by court challenges from the trucking industry and others. Earthjustice represented the American Lung Association in opposing these challenges, which were ultimately rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We’ve known for years that airborne soot can be deadly,” said Earthjustice attorney David Baron. “EPA’s action today sets the stage for attacking the problem.”

EPA adopted the new soot (or “fine particle”) standard based on extensive scientific studies showing that the old standard (which the Washington and Baltimore areas met) was inadequate to protect public health. According to EPA, compliance with the new standard will prevent at least 15,000 premature deaths, 10,000 hospital admissions, 75,000 cases of chronic bronchitis, and millions of days of missed work and restricted activity nationwide every year.

The local areas designated as violating the soot standard include most of metropolitan Washington, including: the District of Columbia; Montgomery, Prince Georges, Frederick and Charles counties in Maryland; and Alexandria, Falls Church, Manassas, Manassa Park, Fairfax City, and the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudon, and Prince William in Virginia. In metro-Baltimore, the violation area includes Baltimore City, and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, and Howard counties. Environmental advocates had urged that additional counties be included, such as Stafford and Fauquier in northern Virginia, where growth and traffic threaten air quality.

As a result of today’s action, Maryland, Virginia and the District will have 3 years to come up with antipollution programs adequate to meet the new standard. However, EPA has still not adopted rules detailing the requirements for those programs. Earlier this week, EPA shelved a proposal to require substantial cuts in pollution from power plants and factories that contribute to unhealthful soot levels in the Baltimore-Washington area and other parts of the East and Midwest. “These delays are inexcusable,” said Baron. “We need strong action now to protect people’s lungs.”

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