Proposed EPA Soot Standard Falls Short on Protecting Public Health, Leaves Thousands at Risk


Jessica King,

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Today, the EPA released its long-overdue and long-awaited draft proposal to update the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for soot, also known as particulate matter, and while this proposal demonstrates a positive step toward clean air for all, it falls far short of what public health demands, communities deserve, and science requires.

Since 2021, Sierra Club and a diverse coalition of partners have called upon EPA to strengthen both the annual and 24-hour standards for soot, an extremely dangerous pollutant. Soot is a deadly mix of metals, organic chemicals, and acidic substances that are so small they can be inhaled deeply into the lungs and enter the bloodstream. By following clear scientific consensus and setting the final annual soot standard no higher than 8 micrograms per cubic meter, EPA can save nearly 20,000 lives and demonstrate the Biden Administration's commitment to protecting the right to clean air.

The EPA sets an annual standard to assess persistent and long-term exposure, as well as a 24-hour standard to track harmful short term spikes in pollution. EPA’s draft proposes to lower the annual standards from 12 mcg/m3 to a range of 9-10 mcg/m3, while inviting public comment on a wider range of possible standards. This proposal comes after EPA’s independent scientific advisory committee recommended setting the soot standard between 8-10 mcg/m3.

Notably, the draft does not propose strengthening the 24-hour standard, which is critical for protecting against dangerous short-term spikes in air pollution and provides the basis for the air quality index that millions use to determine the quality of the air they breathe on any given day.

“Particulate matter is the most deadly and destructive air pollutant there is, killing over one hundred thousand people every year. While we are encouraged by President Biden and EPA Administrator Regan’s decision to finally reconsider the particulate matter standard, today’s proposal does not fully reflect the serious danger of this pollutant, the scientific record, or the positive impact stronger standards would have on communities across the country,” said Sierra Club Senior Director of Energy Campaigns Holly Bender. “The health burdens of air pollution are disproportionately borne by communities of color near heavily polluting facilities and infrastructure, like power plants, factories, and roads, and this standard is a long-overdue step toward correcting enduring environmental and health injustices faced by fenceline communities. Anything short of the most protective standards gives a pass to the biggest polluters. We plan to engage fully with EPA to strengthen the proposed rule, while mobilizing our millions of supporters and members across the country to embolden EPA to follow through on their commitment of achieving clean air for all by swiftly finalizing the strongest standard possible.”

"Particulate matter is one of the most concerning air pollutants for Houstonians,” said Jennifer Hadayia, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston. “During the recent cold snap, we were exposed to 24-hour industrial flares that spewed particulate matter across the region. And, our state regulatory agency – the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality – does nothing to stop it. We applaud the EPA for stepping in where our state will not, but we wish they had gone further. A stronger 24-hour standard would protect more Houstonians from the recent flares. I am hopeful for the opportunity to further strengthen these standards, because everyone deserves to breathe clean air.”

"Black children go to the emergency room for asthma ten times more often than their white counterparts in the City of St. Louis,” said Jenn DeRose, Missouri Campaign Representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “It's eight times more often for Black adults. We need strong reductions in particulate matter pollution in my city and across the country to address problems created by generations of environmental racism targeted at Black communities."

"Arizonans, and especially people of color, have suffered under the burden of air pollution from fossil fuel generation for far too long,” said Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter Director Sandy Bahr. “We need a strict standard that will hold polluters accountable so that clean, healthy air is restored. While we’re pleased the Biden Administration is taking steps to address particulate matter, our communities are counting on EPA to move forward with the strongest particulate matter standard as quickly as possible.”

"Air pollution is a serious environmental and public health issue in Wisconsin,” said Cassie Steiner-Bouxa, Senior Campaign Coordinator, Wisconsin Chapter. “These air pollutants have caused far too many people to get sick or die, and have disproportionately harmed low-income, Black, and Latinx neighborhoods. No one should have to worry that the air they breathe is unsafe, and our communities deserve the strongest possible standard to protect their safety and health. Tighter limits are essential to keep our communities safe and healthy.”

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit