EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson

EPA Issues Tougher SO2 Health Standard

This is the first new sulfur dioxide clean air standard in 40 years, according to the agency, whose director says it will protect millions of Americans from short-term exposures.

For the first time since setting a 24-hour primary standard for sulfur dioxide at 140 ppb and an annual average standard at 30 ppb to protect health, both in 1971, the Environmental Protection Agency has revised the health standard, resetting the one-hour standard to 75 ppb to protect against short-term exposurs and revoking the 24-hour and annual standards. EPA issued the final standard Thursday.

The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set national air quality standards for sulfur dioxide and five other pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment (the others are ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead), and the law says EPA must periodically review the standards to ensure they adequately protect health and the environment. The last review of the S02 National Ambient Air Quality Standards was completed in 1996, with EPA deciding not to change them, although it considered a five-minute NAAQS to protect asthmatics at elevated ventilation rates.

"We're taking on an old problem in a new way, one designed to give all American communities the clean air protections they deserve," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said. "Moving to a one-hour standard and monitoring in the areas with the highest SO2 levels is the most efficient and effective way to protect against sulfur dioxide pollution in the air we breathe. This is one of many pollutants we've been able to significantly reduce through the Clean Air Act, keeping people healthy, protecting our environment, and growing our economy. This new standard -- the first in almost 40 years -- will ensure continued success in meeting these challenges."

EPA estimates health benefits associated with this rule are between $13 billion and $33 billion annually, including preventing 2,300 to 5,900 premature deaths and 54,000 asthma attacks a year. The estimated cost in 2020 to fully implement the standard is about $1.5 billion, according to EPA, which will address the SO2 standard meant to protect the environment in a separate review to be completed in 2012. EPA also will identify not meeting the new standard by June 2012.

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