The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Stronger Soot Standards Can Prevent 35,700 Deaths Annually
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:
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Calif. – prevents 4,230 premature deaths annually
- New York-Newark-Edison, N.Y.-N.J.-Pa. – prevents 3,290 premature deaths annually
- Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, Ill.-Ind.-Wis. – prevents 2,240 premature deaths annually
- Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, Pa.-N.J.-Del.-Md. – prevents 1,550 premature deaths annually
- Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif. – prevents 1,360 premature deaths annually
- Pittsburgh, Pa. – prevents 1,270 premature deaths annually
- Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Mich. – prevents 970 premature deaths annually
- Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga. – prevents 930 premature deaths annually
- Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, Ohio – prevents 780 premature deaths annually
- 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.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Randi Spivak
Slashing two national monuments in Utah may have received the most attention, but Trump's Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service have been quietly, systematically ceding control of America's public lands to fossil fuel, mining, timber and livestock interests since the day he took office.
A new report by Greenpeace International pinpointed the world's worst sources of sulfur dioxide pollution, an irritant gas that harms human health. India has seized the top spot from Russia and China, contributing nearly 15 percent of global sulfur dioxide emissions.
By Sue Branford and Thais Borges
Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:
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.
But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.
The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.
Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.
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).
Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.
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.
But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."
The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."
Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.
Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.
Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY
Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."
Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.
Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."
- Brazil's New President Could Spell Catastrophe for the Amazon ... ›
- Amazon Deforestation Increase Prompts Germany to Cut $39.5M in ... ›
Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.
Gina Lopez, a former Philippine environment secretary, philanthropist and eco-warrior, died on Aug. 19 from brain cancer. She was 65.
Thousands of union members at a multibillion dollar petrochemical plant outside of Pittsburgh were given a choice last week: Stand and wait for a speech by Donald Trump or take the day off without pay.
By Simon Mui
States across the country are stepping up to make clean cars cheaper and easier to find. Colorado's Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) voted Friday to adopt a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program that will increase the availability of electric vehicles in the state, improve air quality and increase transportation affordability.