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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

American Lung Association VS EPA

Air Date: Week of

Host Steve Curwood talks to Ron White of the American Lung Association about his organizations' lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over particulate regulation. White says the EPA must reexamine those regulations in light of new studies suggesting that the standards aren't strict enough.


CURWOOD: Even before the latest report on particulate air pollution was sent to the printers, another new document concerning particulates was already circulating: a lawsuit, filed against the US Environmental Protection Agency by the American Lung Association, the Arizona Lung Association, and the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest. Ron White directs the Environmental Health Program of the American Lung Association. I asked him what prompted the suit.

WHITE: Well, the 1977 amendments to the Clean Air Act required that EPA review the adequacy of the Federal health standards for air pollution at no more than five-year intervals. Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency has consistently failed to carry out this requirement of the Act, and we are suing the Environmental Protection Agency to force them to review the adequacy of the Federal standards.

CURWOOD: What do you want the standards to be?

WHITE: The American Lung Association has not at this point determined what the current standard should be revised to. Clearly, the Clean Air Act requires by statute that the Federal government set air quality standards at a level that will protect public health with an adequate margin of safety. And we are asking EPA in our lawsuit to indicate what an acceptable level of health impact should be. In other words, how many premature deaths, how many people with loss of lung function, how many hospital admissions for respiratory problems constitutes an acceptable level for public health purposes? And from the American Lung Association's point of view, we feel that the level should be set low enough to protect as many people as possible, recognizing that there's always going to be some background level, some natural level of pollution in the air that comes from natural sources.

CURWOOD: Looking ahead, assuming your suit is successful, what will it cost us to have tighter particulate regulations?

WHITE: Clearly, the economic impact on industry is going to depend on exactly how tight EPA revises the standard. Assuming for the moment that they make modest changes to the standard, then I think that we're looking at certainly more than one billion and probably less than 20 billion. Those are just very rough figures. What we do know is that the kind of pollution control equipment for heavy industry - they're called bag-house filters or electrostatic precipitators are the technical names - are available, and while they're not cheap, are somewhat less expensive than the scrubber technology that's required, for example, for controlling sulfur dioxide emissions that were related to acid rain. And exactly what industries and to what extent these industries will be affected will be to a certain extent determined by how EPA decides to revise the standard, if they decide to revise it at all.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you. Ron White is the director of the Environmental Health Program of the American Lung Association. Thank you, sir.

WHITE: Thank you.



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