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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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EPA Gives SoCal’s Filthy Air a Pass, Greens Say

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is endangering public health by failing to declare the Los Angeles-South Coast Air Basin and San Joaquin Valley in violation of particulate matter air pollution standards, the Sierra Club claims in court.

The two areas are the "most polluted areas in the country" for fine particulates, the Sierra Club says.

Joined by the Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, and Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, the Sierra Club sued the EPA, its Administrator Gina McCarthy, and Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld, on Oct. 15 in Federal Court.

"One of the most dangerous forms of air pollution is fine particulate matter pollution," the groups say in their 9-page complaint. "Fine particulate matter pollution consists of tiny, dirty motes that come from sources like diesel exhaust, agricultural activities, and heavy industry. These tiny particles can be easily inhaled deep into the lungs and even absorbed into the bloodstream where they can cause a host of negative health impacts."

Particulate matter pollution refers to particles that are less than 10 micrometers in diameter. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) are especially dangerous because they are "composed of more toxic materials, like heavy metals and carcinogenic organic compounds, than larger particles," the complaint states.

They also "can stay in the air for days or weeks and travel hundreds of miles," unlike larger particles, which typically remain airborne for a few minutes and are typically not dispersed more than 30 miles, the complaint adds.

Exposure to particulate matter creates an increased risk of heart problems, respiratory illnesses and premature death, especially in children and the elderly, the groups say.

Such pollution also causes "profound and adverse" harm to the environment, such as acidifying water sources, killing plant life and limiting visibility, according to the complaint.

"The most polluted areas in the country for PM2.5 are California's Los Angeles-South Coast Air Basin and San Joaquin Valley. These areas are particularly burdened by PM2.5 sources like cars, trucks, agriculture, and heavy industry, and air pollution is trapped in place by surrounding mountains. As a result, people living in [these areas] suffer from high rates of asthma and other health ailments and experience regular impairment of natural visibility," the complaint states.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA must set national ambient air quality standards for pollutants, including particulate matter. Areas that do not meet these standards are declared "nonattainment areas" and have six years to comply with air pollution standards. Those still out of compliance after six years are designated "serious areas" and are published as such in the Federal Register.

States have 18 months to submit a "serious area" plan that describes how the state intends to bring the areas into compliance within 10 years. It must also "assure that the best available control measures for the control of particulate matter are implemented no later than four years after an area is classified as serious," the complaint states.

The EPA revised its PM2.5 standards in 1997 to an annual standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter and a daily standard of 65 micrograms per cubic meter, the complaint states.

In April 2005, it declared the Los Angeles-South Coast Air Basin and San Joaquin Valley nonattainment areas. It ordered them to comply with the new PM2.5 standards by Dec. 31, 2011, but neither of them did, according to the complaint.

The EPA had until June 30, 2012 to publish notice in the Federal Register that these areas are nonattainment areas and to designate them as serious areas, but it didn't do that either, the groups say.

EPA spokesperson Nahal Mogharabi said the agency declines to comment, as it is still reviewing the lawsuit.

The groups seek declaratory judgment that the EPA violated the Clean Air Act, and an order to "immediately perform its mandatory duties."

They are represented by Elizabeth Forsyth and Paul Cort with Earthjustice.

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