EPA Strengthens National Air Quality Standards: What It Means for You and Your Community

The EPA's new PM 2.5 standards is expected to save thousands of lives over the next decade. Here's what the new ruling means for you, your community, and the JustAir dashboard.

On February 7, 2024, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took a significant stride towards cleaner air by announcing a final rule to enhance the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for fine particle pollution, commonly known as particulate matter (PM2.5) or soot. This ruling marks a critical milestone in our collective efforts to protect public health and improve the well-being of communities across the country.

Why is this ruling important?

Particulate matter is one of the most common and damaging air pollutants for human health. When we breathe in these particles, they can penetrate deep into our lungs and enter our bloodstream, causing a range of health problems. 

Short-term exposure to PM can lead to respiratory issues like coughing and difficulty breathing, while long-term exposure has been linked to very serious conditions such as asthma, heart disease, and even premature death. Learn more about particulate matter and other common pollutants in our January 2024 article, What’s in the Air?

The new ruling makes the national standard for particulate matter stricter, which can improve air quality and bring improved health outcomes for people across the country.

What are the new standards?

Because PM is so small, it’s measured in micrograms per cubic meter, which is written as: µg/m3. (To visualize this, picture a paper clip, which weighs about a gram. If you cut the paper clip into one million tiny, equal pieces, each piece would weigh one microgram.) The EPA is reducing the level of primary (health-based) annual PM 2.5 standard from 12 down to 9 µg/m3. 

This change also reflects the overall Air Quality Index (AQI) for particulate matter, which is a color-coded index to quickly understand air quality safety (learn more about AQI here). Below is a breakdown of the new and old Air Quality Index for PM 2.5. For more information on the new ruling, take a look at the EPA’s NAAQS overview document.

Former and new air quality index PM 2.5 breakpoints, measured in micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) over a 24-hour average.

What does this mean for air quality information you see on JustAir?

Air quality monitors will still measure air in your community exactly as they always have. What’s changed is just a little behind-the-scenes math! We’re updating AQI calculations on JustAir.app to reflect the new standards before the new ruling goes into effect on April 7, 2025. By Friday, April 5, all PM 2.5 measurements on JustAir will reflect the new standards and will be automatically updated on your phone or computer, however you access your localized air quality information. 

What does this mean for you and your community?

The impact of this ruling on public health cannot be overstated. Industries that emit PM will now face stricter regulations and requirements to reduce emissions to comply with the new standards. With a reduction of PM in the air, we can potentially avoid up to 4,500 premature deaths, 800,000 cases of asthma symptoms, and 290,000 lost workdays by 2032. These aren't just statistics; they represent lives saved, families spared from suffering, and communities thriving. 

At JustAir, we're committed to protecting the 20,000 breaths we all take every day. This ruling helps our team and partners breathe a little easier and take one step closer to achieving a healthy, sustainable world.

Darren Riley
April 1, 2024
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