In response to a lawsuit filed by three environmental groups, the Environmental Protection Agency committed to important steps under the Clean Air Act to protect people from dangerous sulfur dioxide air pollution in seven states.
The agreement requires the EPA to determine whether measures to reduce sulfur dioxide air pollution are sufficient to protect more than 900,000 people living in parts of Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
“Sulfur dioxide contributes to heart and lung diseases and is particularly threatening to children and the elderly,” said Ashley Bruner, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Because the EPA consistently misses its deadlines for reducing air pollution, we continue to hold it accountable and ensure that it’s fulfilling its mission to protect human health.”
Pollution associated with sulfur dioxide causes a range of public health and environmental problems. 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. Sulfur dioxide also contributes to acid rain and haze, damaging lakes, streams and ecosystems throughout the United States and decreasing visibility in national parks.
“We are pleased that the EPA is moving forward to protect the 900,000 people who live, work and pay in these seven states,” said Zachary Fabish, a Sierra Club attorney. “Clean air is a fundamental right for all, and effective safeguards are essential for protecting so many communities, especially those which are most vulnerable and exposed to toxic pollution.”
The largest source of sulfur air pollution is the combustion of fossil fuels by power plants and other industrial facilities. Sulfur dioxide is also produced during industrial processes such as extracting metal from ore and oil refining, and by ships, cars and heavy equipment that burn fossil fuels.
“We are pleased with this outcome,” said Kaya Sugerman with the Center for Environmental Health. “Instead of putting the profits of polluters first, reducing extremely dangerous air pollution like sulfur dioxide should be an urgent focus of the EPA’s work.”
In the court-enforceable agreement, the EPA agreed to determine whether air-pollution reduction measures have been sufficient to meet the national standard in the following areas: Hayden and Miami, Arizona; Muscatine, Iowa; Saint Bernard Parish, Louisiana; Detroit, Michigan; part of Sullivan County in Tennessee; and Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
The EPA also agreed to evaluate Illinois’s plan for Alton Township, Illinois to determine whether it will adequately reduce sulfur dioxide air pollution for this area in the southwestern part of the state.
Once the EPA determines that an area’s air pollution exceeds the national standard, the law provides deadlines for the agency to ensure that states have valid plans in place to clean up that pollution.