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Particulate Pollution in Northwest Decreases

Release Date: 12/17/2004
Contact Information: Keith Rose
(206) 553-1949

December 17, 2004

But EPA official cautions: “We are very concerned about the future”

Particulate matter pollution, linked to serious heart and lung disease, has generally declined in the Northwest over the last 15 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today.

Particulate matter comes from a variety of sources including coal-burning power plants, factories, construction sites, cars, trucks, buses, tilled fields, unpaved roads, stone crushing, the burning of wood, and secondary chemical reactions in the atmosphere. Other particles may be formed in the air when gases emitted from burning fuels react with sunlight and water vapor.

Premature death and other health problems are strongly related to sulfates – which can form particulates – in the air and ambient concentrations of fine particles less than 2.5 micrograms. Long-term exposure to ambient, airborne particulate matter is associated with increased mortality, largely due to cardiovascular causes and serious respiratory problems. In addition, chronic exposure to particulates can cause decreased development of lung function among school-age children.

While the EPA today informed states and tribes of the counties across the nation that fail to meet the new fine particulate standard, known as PM2.5 – tiny particles approximately 1/30th the size of a human hair – the Northwest received a generally clean bill of health for particulate matter.

Some 15 years ago, the Puget Sound area was in violation of the former particulate standard, PM10(about 1/8th the width of the average human hair), due in large part to wood smoke from residences, outdoor burning, industrial sources, agricultural burning, and vehicle emissions.

Since then, the EPA and state and local governments have moved aggressively throughout the region to better control these sources by:
  • Clamping down on industrial emissions;
  • Initiating "Burn Bans" to reduce wood smoke;
  • Converting hundreds of thousands of residential wood stoves to EPA-certified pellet stoves;
  • Controlling outdoor burning;
  • Reducing, and in some areas eliminating, agricultural burning;
  • Subsidizing retrofits of older school and public transit diesel buses with emission-control devices; and
  • Requiring some localities to develop motor vehicle inspection-and-maintenance programs.

“It’s true that we’re proud of the improvements to air quality that the EPA and our tribal, state, and local partners have made over the last decade-and-a half,” said EPA Acting Regional Administrator Ron Kreizenbeck.

“But, we are very concerned about the future. We live in a rapidly growing region of the country, and that means more cars, more trucks, more trains, and more ships – all of which put particulate matter into our air. We are committed to re-doubling our efforts to control particulate sources – and for this region that means a particular emphasis on cleaning up diesel sources and further curtailing emissions from agricultural sources.”

EPA air experts in Seattle cite the following challenges to controlling particulate pollution in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington:
  • Increased emissions from uncontrolled marine diesel sources due to increases in marine traffic;
  • Increased motor vehicle emissions in major, growing metropolitan areas;
  • Uncontrollable wildfire smoke;
  • Smoke from agricultural burning; and
  • Wind blown dust in agricultural areas east of the Cascades and in rural Alaska

On July 29, 2004, EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt awarded the University of Washington a $30 million grant to study the connection between air pollution and cardiovascular disease. The grant is the largest ever awarded by the EPA for scientific research, and will contribute to a better understanding of the long-term health effects of breathing air contaminated by particulate matter and other pollutants.

The EPA is helping to organize the West Coast Diesel Collaborative, a group of over 300 industry, agriculture, public health, and government entities working together to speed voluntary implementation of the EPA’s new diesel emissions standards for on-road and non-road diesel engines.

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Contact: Mark MacIntyre 206/553-7302
Keith Rose 206/553-1949