Soot Pollution

soot-pollution-environmental-protection-agency-standardsTo put it simply, soot pollution is deadly. Soot is a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, in particular coal. It comes from burning coal for electricity or industrial fuel, manufacturing, oil refining, and motor vehicles.  It affects the health of families and communities, some of which are at a higher risk than others. Soot has been a danger to human health and the health of the environment for years. The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit identified the deficiencies in soot regulation years ago. Standards are long overdue.  For years soot has been released into the air and can be carried thousands of miles away from the initial source of pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency has experienced a series of victories on behalf of the environment in the courts and in the Senate recently, but there is still more work to do, especially in regards to soot pollution.

Particulate pollution, also known as soot, is an airborne contaminant, and one of the most dangerous ones at that. Soot is made of microscopic bits of matter and that matter can penetrate people’s lungs and infiltrate their bloodstream. Soot is proven to contribute to heart attacks, strokes, asthma attacks, bronchitis, and in some cases ultimately death. Strokes are the third largest cause of death in the United States, with about 700,000 new or recurrent cases each year. This costs around 30 billion dollars annually. All of which could be reduced if the Environmental Protection agency strengthens it standards of soot pollution.

There is also an environmental toll from soot, not just the negative effects on human health. Particulate pollution has serious environmental impacts such as impairing the visibility of national parks like the Great Smoky Mountains. They may be called Smoky, but it is soot that prevents them from being seen. Soot also will contaminate water and plant life in regions it is found. In particular it depletes nutrients from the soil and erodes landscapes. Particulate pollution is also related to acid rain.

The Environmental Protection Agency understands these affects, but is long overdue proposing changes to the standards for fine particulate pollution, which includes soot. The new proposal would strengthen health standards and lead to local environmental benefits like cleaner air for everyone. The new standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency in May of 2012 would save thousands of lives each year and ensure healthier, longer lives for millions of Americans.

Epidemiologists have studied populations over time and have been able to tease out that people living in areas with higher soot pollution are more likely to die earlier than people living in areas that have lower soot pollution. Soot pollution especially affects the young and the elderly, who are more susceptible to inhalation because of weak immune systems. Another study recently was concluded and determined that this is true by watching populations in six cities for a total of eight thousand participants over thirty years. It studied the annual, chronic level of soot exposure to each of these 8000 people. The Six Cities Study shows that soot pollution shortens lives even at levels considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards. The study therefore suggests that soot pollution kills people at all level of pollution. To support the Environmental Protection Agency’s strengthening of standards please sign this petition at The Environmental Defense Fund.

Photo credit: blog.epa.gov/administrator/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/industry_021.jpg

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  1. 0 Votes
    If I may may make some clarifications on some of your claims. The Smoky Mountains are not smoky as the result of soot pollution, they have been smoky for as long as there have been people to notice the haze that results from the very high humidity and the large levels of plant exudates that are given off by the forests of that region. The native Americans, that originally lived in that area, even had a name for it: shaconage, and that was long before the coming of the euro settlers. The very real truth; plant material produces prodigious amounts of greenhouse gasses, just in the course of living and respiring. And your definition of soot better defines air borne dust than it does the carbon byproducts of combustion. Soot is produced by any manner of incomplete combustion, which is why cleaning out your fireplace chimney is such an ongoing recommendation to prevent fires. Just one follow up question: do you suppose comments for your article will be closed down after this post, as it was the last time I posted here?
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