In response to a lawsuit filed by three conservation groups, the Environmental Protection Agency announced today it will ensure that parts of Indiana, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and Guam have plans for cleaning up asthma-causing sulfur dioxide air pollution.
These areas, which are home to more than a half-million people, have sulfur dioxide pollution at levels high enough to trigger ecological harm and human health problems.
Once the EPA determines an area’s air pollution exceeds the national standard, the law provides deadlines for the agency to ensure that states and U.S. territories have valid plans in place to clean up that pollution.
“It should not take a lawsuit to make sure dangerous air pollution is reduced,” said Robert Ukeiley, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re pleased that that these states and U.S. territories are now one step closer to cleaning up unhealthy sulfur dioxide pollution.”
According to the EPA, exposure to sulfur dioxide air pollution can harm human health in as little as five minutes, triggering asthma attacks and harm to the lungs and cardiovascular system that can be fatal.
“The coronavirus pandemic has made it clear just how necessary clean air is for all of us,” said Caroline Cox, a senior scientist with the Center for Environmental Health. “Complying with the Clean Air Act is more important than ever.”
Studies have shown that air pollution results in worse outcomes for people who have COVID-19 and similar diseases. In addition, the highest-risk groups for COVID-19 include people with asthma, which sulfur dioxide pollution aggravates.
Pollution associated with sulfur dioxide causes a range of public health and environmental problems. Sulfur dioxide contributes to heart and lung diseases and is particularly threatening to children and the elderly. The EPA’s updated scientific studies show a link between sulfur dioxide pollution and developmental harm to children. Sulfur dioxide also contributes to acid rain and haze, damaging lakes, streams and ecosystems throughout the United States and decreasing visibility in national parks.
The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set and enforce national ambient air-quality standards to protect people and the environment from pollutants like sulfur dioxide, which are produced from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil.
The EPA missed its legal deadline for issuing a formal finding that plans were missing to clean up sulfur dioxide air pollution in the affected areas. This forced conservation groups to sue the EPA for failing to do its job to protect people, wildlife and natural areas.
The areas where the EPA had failed to make sure air pollution plans are in place include Evangeline Parish, La.; Huntington, Ind.; Piti-Cabras, Guam; and San Juan and Guayama-Salinas in Puerto Rico.
Now that EPA has made a finding that the pollution cleanup plans are missing, the areas have two years to get the plans in place or else the agency will have to put its own plan in place.