The Debate over Clean Air: Does Exposure to Soot Lead to Illnesses?

Washington, DC, May 30, 2001—As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to review the science behind its proposed rule to regulate fine particles of soot, the Competitive Enterprise Institute has released its own study, which questions the need for a new standard.

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Currently, the EPA regulates larger particles of soot (10 microns) released into the air by power plants and vehicles. Now the agency also wants to separately regulate fine particulate matter (2.5 microns). The authors of CEI’s study, “The Ongoing Clean-Air Debate, The Science Behind EPA’s Rule on Soot,” say the evidence has yet to implicate fine particulate matter as a serious public health threat.


“The EPA’s 1997 standard for fine particulate matter is perhaps the most controversial environmental rule enacted during the Clinton administration,” wrote CEI Senior Policy Analyst Ben Lieberman and former presidential advisor on air quality Kay Jones in the study’s executive summary. “Critics both inside and outside the administration raised doubts about the claimed public health benefits from this costly new standard, and even the EPA’s own science advisory committee questioned its scientific support,” they added.


Litigation has delayed implementation of the rule, but a recent Supreme Court decision should allow it to move forward. The EPA is reviewing all relevant research and will publish a decision on whether to enact the fine particulate matter rule. While some studies show a health risk with exposure to fine particles of soot, others point out problems identifying a genuine link between the two.


“The association between exposure to fine particulate matter and mortality is often statistically insignificant, and indeed is weaker than the effects of other pollutants and non-pollution related factors,” said Jones.