Press Release

Baltimore, MD (December 14, 2012) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today issued a new, strengthened federal air standard for fine particulate matter, or soot, pollution. Maryland was among a group of states that took successful legal action to require the EPA to issue a stricter standard to better protect public health.

Robert M. Summers, Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, and Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler expressed support for EPA’s decision to strengthen the annual standard for particulate matter.

“Levels of both smog and soot in our State are at the lowest they’ve been in 20 years, thanks to such programs as the Maryland Healthy Air Act,” Secretary Summers said. “But because as much as 70 percent of our air pollution comes from upwind states, strict federal standards are critical to protecting the health of Maryland citizens. This new standard for fine particulate matter is a big step in the right direction.”

“Improving the quality of the air we breathe is a shared responsibility among all levels of government,” said Attorney General Gansler. “Maryland has been at the forefront of decreasing air pollution and protecting public health and a tougher federal standard will help ensure those efforts are not harmed by pollution from other states.”

Recent results of air monitoring in Maryland show particulate matter levels that are below the new EPA standard.

Fine particulate matter, or particulate matter less than two and half micrometers in diameter (“PM2.5”), forms predominantly as a result of the combustion of fossil fuel by power plants, motor vehicles, industrial facilities and residential heating. Because of its microscopic size, fine particulate matter can penetrate deep into the lungs and trigger a wide range of adverse health effects. EPA has linked exposure to fine particulate matters pollution with increased respiratory symptoms (asthma attacks) and disease (acute and chronic bronchitis), decreased lung function and premature deaths in people with heart and lung diseases.

The EPA had last issued national ambient air quality standards for fine particulate matter in 2006 but at that time did not strengthen the annual standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter, which it had established in 1997. The agency’s failure to issue standards in 2011 as required by the Clean Air Act prompted New York and 10 other states, including Maryland, to file suit in February. In June, the states entered into a Consent Decree with EPA, and the federal agency issued proposed standards. The agency proposed to strengthen the annual standard to within the range of 12-13 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The proposal retained the existing daily standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter. The EPA also solicited comments on an alternative annual standard of 11 micrograms per cubic meter.

Last week, Maryland joined with several states in writing in support of the adoption of standards that are “fully protective of public health” – specifically, an annual standard no higher than 12 micrograms per cubic meter and a daily emission standard of 30 micrograms per cubic meter.

The consent decree required EPA to issue final standards by December 14, 2012. The EPA announced today that the agency is updating its air quality standards for fine particulates, setting the annual standard at 12 micrograms per cubic meter. The EPA said the existing daily standard for fine particulates remains unchanged.

“While we are pleased that the EPA strengthened the annual standard, we are disappointed that the agency did not follow the request from Maryland and other states to lower the daily standard,” Secretary Summers said.

Maryland has made great strides in improving the state’s air quality in recent years, thanks in part to the implementation of the Healthy Air Act, the Clean Cars Program, the adoption of EmPOWER Maryland and other programs and regulatory actions that focus on environmental preservation, public health, energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy sources.

Sulfur dioxide, which is produced by the burning of fossil fuels containing sulfur compounds, is the number one precursor to the formation of fine particulate pollution. The Healthy Air Act, the toughest power plant emissions law east of the Mississippi, required an 80 percent reduction of sulfur dioxide emissions from the State’s largest coal-burning power plants to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2010 and by 85 percent by 2013. Other factors that have helped reduce fine particle pollution include federal rules on power plants and on vehicle programs, including a requirement for low-sulfur fuel to be used by many large trucks.