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Stronger Soot Standards Can Prevent 35,700 Deaths Annually

Earthjustice

Up to 35,700 premature deaths can be prevented in the U.S. every year if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strengthens the health standards for fine particulate matter—also known as soot—according to a new report, Sick of Soot: How the EPA Can Save Lives by Cleaning Up Fine Particle Pollution, prepared by the American Lung Association, Clean Air Task Force and Earthjustice.

Soot, technically known as PM2.5 (fine particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less), is generated by coal-fired power plants, diesel and other vehicles, agricultural burning, wood stoves and industrial combustion. Though the pollution particles in soot are tiny—1/30th the width of a human hair—they can have a huge impact on human health. Research links them to premature death, heart attacks, stroke, worsened asthma and possibly cancer and developmental and reproductive harm.

The Clean Air Act requires that the EPA set national air quality standards for soot at levels that protect public health with a margin of safety. To adequately protect children, seniors and people with lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes from these dangers, Sick of Soot shows that the EPA should tighten the current standard to an annual level of 11 μg/m3 coupled with a daily standard of 25 μg/m3 and a daily level of 25 μg/m3 coupled with a daily standard of 25 μg/m3.

Cleaning up the air to meet the standards outlined above could spare the nation every year from as many as:

  • 35,700 premature deaths
  • 2,350 heart attacks
  • 23,290 visits to the hospital and emergency room
  • 29,800 cases of acute bronchitis
  • 1.4 million cases of aggravated asthma
  • 2.7 million days of missed work or school due to air pollution-caused ailments

The ten metropolitan areas that would benefit most are:

  1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Calif. – prevents 4,230 premature deaths annually
  2. New York-Newark-Edison, N.Y.-N.J.-Pa. – prevents 3,290 premature deaths annually
  3. Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, Ill.-Ind.-Wis. – prevents 2,240 premature deaths annually
  4. Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, Pa.-N.J.-Del.-Md. – prevents 1,550 premature deaths annually
  5. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif. – prevents 1,360 premature deaths annually
  6. Pittsburgh, Pa. – prevents 1,270 premature deaths annually
  7. Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Mich. – prevents 970 premature deaths annually
  8. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga. – prevents 930 premature deaths annually
  9. Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, Ohio – prevents 780 premature deaths annually
  10. Cincinnati-Middletown, Ohio-Ky.-Ind. – prevents 650 premature deaths annually

The economic benefits associated with reduced exposure to soot are estimated to reach as much as $281 billion annually.

Concern about the health impacts of soot pollution is the reason that Earthjustice—on behalf of the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund and National Parks Conservation Association—petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals Nov. 16 for the D.C. Circuit to set a deadline for the EPA to issue stronger soot standards. In early 2009, the same court found that the EPA's current soot standards did not adequately protect public health and ordered the agency to update them. In the nearly three years since that decision, however, the EPA has yet to propose any new standards. A coalition of 10 states filed a companion petition with the court Nov. 16 as well.

The estimates in Sick of Soot come from Health Benefits of Alternative PM2.5 Standards—a report prepared by Donald McCubbin, Ph.D., a recognized expert on the health benefits associated with reducing air pollution who developed the Environmental Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program (BenMAP) for the EPA. The analysis in this detailed report was developed using the BenMAP model, the same program that the EPA uses in its own analyses of air pollution standards.

Proposal Long Overdue

The Clean Air Act directs the EPA to review the national standards every five years by taking into account the latest scientific research to ensure public health is adequately protected. The EPA has failed to meet that deadline and the Lung Association, National Parks Conservation Association and Earthjustice have begun legal steps to require the EPA to complete the review.

Since 2006, when the EPA completed its last review, new scientific data have emerged that clearly indicate soot still poses a major threat to public health. The current standards of 15 μg/m3 coupled with a daily standard of 25 μg/m3 (annual) and 35 μg/m3 coupled with a daily standard of 25 μg/m3 (daily) fail to provide that protection and must be strengthened.

"The EPA has the legal responsibility to follow science and the law and protect all Americans from harm caused by soot pollution," said Janice Nolen, assistant vice president, National Policy and Advocacy for the American Lung Association. "Soot is the deadliest of the widespread air pollutants and poses a huge risk to people who suffer from lung and heart disease. Kids, seniors, asthmatics and other vulnerable populations deserve the strong standards recommended by Sick of Soot."

"The findings detailed in Sick of Soot go beyond EPA's own analysis of this issue," said John Graham, Ph.D., a scientist at Clean Air Task Force. "We used more current air quality data and looked at the issue nationally, rather than just in the 15 urban areas that EPA typically examines. Because air quality has improved recently, the standards we are recommending should be easier for the nation to meet than might be predicted by the EPA's modeling. It's a win-win situation, and we hope the agency will strongly consider these findings as it makes its decision."

"Given the large number of lives at stake, it's clear that the EPA needs to act now," said Earthjustice attorney, David Baron. "Unfortunately, the agency has refused to respond to a 2009 federal court finding that its current standards fall far short of what scientists and doctors say is necessary to protect the public's health. It also just missed a five-year deadline for reviewing those deficient soot standards. The EPA needs to start moving in a different direction, and Sick of Soot points the way."

To download the report, click here.

For more information, click here.

—————

American Lung AssociationNow in its second century, the American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease. With your generous support, the American Lung Association is “Fighting for Air” through research, education and advocacy. For more information about the American Lung Association, a Charity Navigator Four Star Charity and holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) or visit www.Lung.org.

Clean Air Task Force is a nonprofit environmental organization with offices throughout the United States and in China that works to protect the earth’s atmosphere by improving air quality and reducing global climate change through scientific research, public advocacy, technological innovation and private sector collaboration. For more information please visit www.catf.us.

Earthjustice is a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. Learn more at earthjustice.org.

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Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

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An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

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One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

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