The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took an important, long overdue step today to better protect some of our communities from dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide air pollution, but they've left others still holding their breath.
Sulfur dioxide pollution, which largely comes from coal plants, is a very dangerous threat to the health of our families and communities. It's so much of a danger that even short-term exposure for as little as five minutes is associated with breathing problems like asthma attacks, particularly among vulnerable populations like the elderly and asthmatics. On top of that, the medical community has established connections between chronic exposure and even more serious conditions, such as aggravation of cardiac conditions, hospitalization, and even premature death.
Back in 2010, the EPA issued a new health standard for sulfur dioxide, which set in motion the process to clean up the air in polluted communities. The next step in the process was for the EPA to identify areas not meeting the standard. After a sustained advocacy push by the Sierra Club and our allies, a federal court approved a timeline and framework for the EPA to do a thorough review of all the communities in the country.
Today, the EPA took another big step in that process and identified 12 areas with high levels of sulfur dioxide air pollution. The proposed nonattainment areas are in Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. When finalized, these designations should ultimately provide long overdue relief for those communities. Once these designations are final, the EPA will need to ensure these states actually take the necessary steps to fix the problem, and hold accountable states that drag their feet, put forward weak plans, or allow polluters to duck their responsibility to clean up this deadly air pollution.
At the same time, however, the EPA has failed to include areas with some of the highest levels of sulfur dioxide pollution in the country, places like Jefferson County, Arkansas, and Gibson County, Indiana.
Right now there are dozens of areas across the country with serious sulfur dioxide pollution problems that expose thousands of families to dirty air. The EPA has the data to identify and crack down on the polluters responsible for creating these conditions, and they need to do just that by designating all areas with high sulfur dioxide pollution levels as being "out of compliance" with clean air standards. Today they did that for many communities, but not for all the communities suffering daily from this deadly pollution.
Parents shouldn't have to worry about their kids when they are playing in their backyards or their schoolyards, but in many communities across the U.S., that's frequently the case because of dangerous air pollution coming from nearby coal plants. It's time for that to stop.
Americans look to the EPA to keep every family safe from pollution. We applaud the EPA for taking this step to begin to protect some communities from dangerous sulfur dioxide air pollution and holding polluters accountable to the people they are making sick.
Now we urge the EPA ensure this standard is enforced in these new nonattainment areas, once they are finalized, and also to do the right thing and add additional communities facing dangerous levels of pollution and finalize these designations this year. People's lives are hanging in the balance.