In the latest step in its review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the foundation for unprecedented regulation of dust.
According to EPA’s Second Draft Policy Assessment for Particulate Matter (PM), issued late last week, EPA may consider regulating coarse PM at levels as low as 65-85 µg/m3, which is twice as stringent as the current standard.
“It would be virtually impossible for many critical U.S. industries to comply with this standard, even with use of best-management practices to control dust,” said Tamara Thies, chief environmental counsel for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. “All of us certainly want healthy air for our communities, but this is nothing more than the everyday dust kicked up by a car driving down a dirt road, and it has long been found to be of no health concern at ambient levels.”
Because of the high dust levels found in arid climates, many critical western industries have a difficult time meeting the current standard of 150 µg/m3. In some of these areas, “no-till” days have already been proposed for agriculture, severely hindering farmers’ ability to maintain productive operations.
“Farmers could be fined for everyday activities like driving a tractor down a dirt road or tilling a field,” said Thies. “It would effectively bring economic growth and development to a halt in many areas of the country.”
If EPA regulates dust at the level of 65-85 µg/m3, areas across the country would be classified as “nonattainment,” forcing states to impose extreme dust-control requirements on businesses across the board.
“The current PM standard was set conservatively low based on historically flawed health studies,” Thies continued. “EPA itself acknowledges the current standard was based on a desire to be cautious, and not on clear evidence that this very stringent level was necessary to protect against adverse public health effects. This is especially true for the type of rural dust predominantly found in agricultural and other resource-based operations.”
The policy assessment is the latest step in EPA’s ongoing review of the PM NAAQS, as required every five years under the Clean Air Act. The document will serve as the basis of EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee’s (CASAC) consideration about whether to revise the current PM standard.
The Advisory Committee is scheduled to discuss the document on July 26.