Hundreds of thousands call on the EPA to slash soot pollution

Media Contacts
Lisa Frank

Executive Director, Environment America; Vice President and D.C. Director, The Public Interest Network

Matt Casale

Former Director, Environment Campaigns, PIRG

New rule is a once in a decade chance to save lives


WASHINGTON – Advocates with Environment America, PennEnvironment and U.S. PIRG joined other health and environmental groups to deliver more than 500,000 public comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters Tuesday in support of stronger limits on soot pollution. The EPA is proposing to update its standards for the first time in a decade. Since then, new research has found there may be no safe amount of air pollution and the World Health Organization cut in half its guidelines for allowable particulate matter (soot) pollution. 

“Soot standards are one of the biggest opportunities the EPA has to save lives,” said Lisa Frank, executive director of Environment America’s Washington Legislative Office. “The difference between stronger and weaker standards means thousands of preventable deaths. If Administrator Regan adopts the strongest possible limits, we can have longer, healthier lives, with clearer skies and less planet-warming pollution.”

Soot, also known as particulate matter, is an especially harmful type of air pollution, since the small particles easily lodge in human lungs where they can trigger asthma attacks, heart disease, lung disease and cancer. The EPA estimates their proposal will prevent 4,200 premature deaths per year, but public health and environmental organizations are asking for a stronger standard that would likely save three times more American lives.

“For too many Americans, the air we breathe makes us sick,” said Matt Casale, environment campaigns director with U.S. PIRG, a public interest advocacy group. “By setting the strongest possible soot limits, the Biden administration can help Americans breathe easier. Our health depends on it.”

Soot pollution affects millions of people each year. According to a 2021 report, Trouble in the Air, more than one in six Americans (58.4 million people) suffered through more than 100 days of elevated air pollution in 2020. And 206 million Americans – more than 60 percent – were exposed to over a month of elevated soot pollution. In the United States, the largest human-caused sources of soot pollution are fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – burned for electricity and transportation. 

Americans from all 50 states weighed in, including more than 38,000 Pennsylvanians who are eager for cleaner air. Three Pennsylvania counties already fail to meet the EPA’s existing weaker soot limits: Delaware, Lebanon and Allegheny. The only state with more soot hotspots is California. Citizens and local organizations in Pennsylvania have campaigned for years to reduce air pollution from manufacturing, transportation and oil and gas operations in the state. 

“In Philadelphia, more than 20 percent of children have asthma,” said Stephanie Wein, advocate with PennEnvironment who spoke outside the EPA on Tuesday. “When the air is polluted, we can’t just choose not to breathe it. President Biden and Administrator Regan need to finalize the strongest possible soot pollution protections as quickly as possible.”