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Massachusetts Achieves Attainment with the Fine Particle Air-Quality Standards

Release Date: 12/17/2004
Contact Information:

Contact Information: David Deegan, 617-918-1017

For Immediate Release: Dec. 17, 2004; Release # dd-04-12 -10

BOSTON - EPA analysis of air quality indicates that Massachusetts has ambient concentrations of fine particles that meet current health standards.

"The fact that Massachusetts and most of New England is in attainment with EPA's Clean Air Fine Particle standards underscores the success of state and federal air emission controls put into place in recent years to make our air cleaner," said Jeffrey R. Holmstead, Assistant Administrator of EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, who presented EPA’s letter of attainment to state officials.
Fine particles, frequently referred to as PM2.5, are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (approximately one-thirtieth the size of a human hair). Fine particles are unhealthy to breathe and have been associated with serious health impacts, including premature death from heart and lung disease, aggravation of heart and lung diseases (including chronic bronchitis and asthma), increased hospital admissions and doctor visits, and absences from work and school. These particles are derived from a variety of sources, including factories, power plants, trash incinerators, motor vehicles, construction activity and fires. In addition, fine particles are the major cause of reduced visibility (haze) in parts of the United States, including many of our national parks.

“We can be proud that air quality in most of New England attains the health-based standard for fine-particle pollution,” said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England Office. "Even with this success, we need to ensure that standards continue to be attained and that, especially in urban areas, we continue efforts to reduce the amount of fine particles in the air that people breathe."

Nationally, EPA is taking numerous actions to reduce pollution from fine particles, including tougher emission limits for power plants in the eastern U.S. and tougher tailpipe emission limits and cleaner fuels for all cars, light-duty vehicles (including sport utility vehicles and minivans) and diesel trucks, beginning this year. In May 2004, EPA issued its Clean Air Nonroad Diesel Rule that will cut emission levels from construction, agricultural and industrial diesel-powered equipment by more than 90 percent.

“The good news is that Massachusetts’ efforts to reduce particulate pollution from power plants and diesel vehicles is making a difference in the health of our citizens,” said Robert W. Golledge Jr., commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. “But our work is not yet done. We will continue to pursue emission reductions within our state, and we also invite states upwind to reduce the emissions that eventually impact us here.”

Even though Massachusetts will not be required to develop plans to bring their states into attainment with the standards, New England states will benefit from programs in predominantly upwind states to reduce their fine-particle levels. Some of the same pollutants that contribute to the formation of fine particles also contribute to formation of ground-level ozone, regional haze, and acid rain, all of which have serious environmental consequences for New England.

"This is great news for the citizens and businesses of Massachusetts. We should all be proud of this designation as it reflects the tremendous work by many individuals and businesses," commented Robert Rio of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

With support from EPA, the six New England states currently operate a network of over 100 monitors to measure fine particle concentration. This network is needed to measure progress in maintaining standards, and to provide real-time data so that EPA can alert the public when fine particle concentrations are high in any area of the New England region. During 2004, EPA New England awarded $865,000 in operating funds and in-kind services to Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection(DEP) for operation of its fine particle monitors. For Massachusetts, EPA’s 2004 grant funds are being used for operation and maintenance of 18 fine particle monitoring sites, where the state operates filter-based samplers, continuous monitors or speciation samplers.

EPA issued the fine particle standards in 1997 after evaluating hundreds of health studies and conducting an extensive peer review process. The annual standard is a level of 15 micrograms per cubic meter, based on the 3-year average of annual mean PM2.5 concentrations. The 24-hour standard is a level of 65 micrograms per cubic meter, determined by the 3-year average of the annual 98th percentile concentrations. Scientists, however, have not identified any "bright line" at which fine particle levels are not harmful to human health so it makes good sense for states to pursue voluntary measures that further reduce fine particle levels.

EPA and states have adopted many measures to decrease sources of fine particle pollution. These include measures addressing SO2 and NOx emissions from power plants, as well as new national mobile source regulations affecting heavy-duty diesel engines, highway vehicles, and other mobile sources that will reduce emissions of NOx, direct PM2.5, SO2 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Programs that states can pursue to reduce fine particle pollution include retrofitting engines in school buses, diesel trucks, and off-road vehicles; reducing sulfur levels in diesel and home-heating fuels, increasing anti-idling efforts and vehicle opacity testing, better enforcement of existing laws, and educational outreach. In Massachusetts, for example, the Massachusetts Bay Tranportation Authority (MBTA) is using ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) in all of its diesel buses is retrofitting all of its existing and new diesel buses with particulate matter filters. MBTA also has 358 transit buses that run on compressed natural gas. With EPA grant funds, two tourist trolley companies have retrofitted 36 trolleys with oxidation catalysts, and some trolleys are being fueled with ULSD. In addition, the city of Medford is using grant funds from EPA’s Clean School Bus USA program to retrofit 70 school buses with particulate matter filters or oxidation catalysts, and to fuel them with ULSD. Lastly, with funds from two separate supplemental environmental projects, the city of Boston is retrofitting the entire fleet of 600 school buses with particulate matter filters or oxidation catalysts and fueling these buses with ULSD.

For more information on today's announcement, visit: www.epa.gov/region1/airquality/partic.html. National information on EPA’s Clean Air Fine Particle standards is available at: http://www.epa.gov/pmdesignations/ .

Related Information:
Particulate Matter in New England
EPA’s Clean Air Fine Particle standards
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