WildEarth Guardians Targets Dangerously Dusty Skies in Eight Western States
Petition Filed with EPA to Clean up Particulate Pollution in 21 Dirty Air Areas
today petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to rein in dangerous
levels of particulate matter air pollution in 21 areas in eight western states,
including Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and
“We need the EPA to step up and put these areas on the path
to clean up,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for
WildEarth Guardians. “These dusty
skies are not only dangerous, they’re a sign that air quality throughout the
west is at risk. We need relief.”
Air quality monitoring data for the 21 areas shows that health-based
standards limiting particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter, or 1/7th
the width of a human hair, also known as PM-10, are being violated.
Breathing PM-10 can lead to a number of adverse health
effects, including irritation of the airways, coughing, or difficulty
breathing, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, development of chronic
bronchitis, nonfatal heart attacks; and premature death in people with heart or
lung disease (see the EPA’s website, http://www.epa.gov/air/particlepollution/health.html).
Under the Clean Air Act, if an area violates any ambient air
quality standard, the EPA is required to ensure States clean up the air
pollution. Despite violating PM-10
standards, the EPA has yet to put the 21 areas on the path to clean up.
The areas violating PM-10 standards, by state, include:
- Arizona: Douglas, Nogales, Tucson, and Yuma.
- Colorado: Alamosa, Durango, Grand Junction,
Lamar, Pagosa Springs, and Parachute.
- Montana: A portion of Jefferson County south
- Nevada: Pahrump.
Mexico: Anthony, Chaparral,
Deming, Las Cruces, and Sunland Park.
- Oklahoma: Tulsa.
- Utah: Salt Lake and Utah Counties.
- Wyoming: A portion of Sweetwater County near
Point of Rocks.
An interactive Google Earth map showing the location of
these areas and the air quality monitors can be viewed at http://climatewest.org/pm-10-dirty-air-areas-targeted-for-cleanup/.
Under the Clean Air Act, if an area violates PM-10 standards,
the EPA is required to designate the area as “nonattainment,” which triggers
deadlines for States to clean up the air pollution and protect public
health. Where an area that is
already designated as “nonattainment” violates PM-10 air quality standards, the
EPA must reclassify its designation as “Serious,” which imposes more stringent
clean up requirements. In this
case, WildEarth Guardians called for 15 areas to be designated as
“nonattainment” and for six additional areas to be reclassified as “Serious”
nonattainment areas, including Douglas, AZ, Nogales, AZ, Yuma, AZ, Anthony, NM,
Salt Lake County, UT, and Utah County, UT.
The sources of PM-10 pollution in these areas include dust
blown from disturbed lands, mining operations, coal-fired power plants and oil
refineries, dirt roads, and other kinds of burning (e.g., wood stoves,
industrial boilers). For example,
in Salt Lake County, copper mining at Kennecott Utah Copper’s Bingham Canyon
Mine and coal-fired smelter have contributed to violations.
“These air quality violations are a sign of out control air
pollution,” said Nichols. “These
sources—whether they be coal-fired power plants or dusty roads—need to be
reined in. It’s time for clean air
to come first in these areas.”
In some cases, violations of PM-10 standards have been
ongoing. For example, Salt Lake
County, which includes Salt Lake City, has violated PM-10 standards every year
since 1999. A violation of the
PM-10 standards occurs whenever the three-year average of the number of
exceedances of the standards exceeds 1.0.
The PM-10 standards are exceeded whenever concentrations exceed 150
micrograms/cubic meter over a 24-hour period.
WildEarth Guardians petitioned the EPA under the
Administrative Procedure Act, a federal law that provides any citizen the right
to petition the government to issue a rule. In this case, Guardians petitioned the EPA to issue a rule
to ensure PM-10 pollution in the 21 areas is cleaned up. The petition calls on the EPA to
respond within 90 days.