WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday it had finalized a rule that would protect millions of people from smokestack emissions of sulfur dioxide, which can lead to asthma and other lung problems.
The rule, which was signed late Wednesday night, is designed to protect people for the first time against short-term exposures to SO2 emissions from coal-burning power plants and other industrial sources. The National Ambient Air Quality Standards first set rules for SO2 emissions in 1971.
Big coal-burning utilities like Southern Co and American Electric Power Co Inc may need to take steps to reduce emissions under the new rule.
EPA scientists have found in recent years that most damage to human health from SO2 is done in short bursts of the pollutant near industrial areas.
The rule for the first time sets a one-hour standard at 75 parts per billion of SO2 in the air. The agency is revoking the current 24-hour and annual SO2 health standards.
“Moving to a one-hour standard and monitoring in the areas with the highest SO2 levels is the most efficient and effective way to protect against sulfur dioxide pollution in the air we breathe,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a release.
The rule will require monitors to be placed in cities and other populated areas where the emissions, which also cause acid rain, are high.
EPA scientists had recommended cutting the short-term standard in a range of 50 to 150 ppb.
One environmentalist applauded the measure. “Fewer people will go to the hospital,” said Frank O’Donnell, the president of Clean Air Watch. “And fewer people will die prematurely from air pollution.”
Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Walter Bagley