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Two Connecticut Counties Identified for Potential Nonattainment Designation Under Fine Particle Air-Quality Standards

Release Date: 09/29/04
Contact Information: Contact: David Deegan, 617-918-1017

For Immediate Release: June 29, 2004; Release # 04-06-36

Boston - In a letter issued today to the State of Connecticut, EPA is proposing to include both Fairfield and New Haven Counties as part of a multi-state nonattainment area for the Fine Particle Air-Quality Standards. The multi-state proposed designation would encompass the New York City metropolitan area, including ten counties in northern New Jersey and ten counties in downstate New York, where air quality monitors indicate that outdoor concentrations violate the annual fine particle standard.

Today’s action is an initial response to Connecticut’s recommended fine particle air quality designations. EPA is proposing to include Fairfield and New Haven Counties as part of the New York City nonattainment area based on the numerous emission sources in these counties (e.g., cars, trucks, buses) which have the potential to contribute to fine particle pollution throughout the metropolitan area. Final designations will be made in November, after states have the opportunity to review EPA’s preliminary determination, and to submit further information if the state disagrees with EPA's response to Connecticut's designation recommendation.

“This designation process is an important step in implementing the fine particle standards so that New Englanders are better and more thoroughly protected from fine-particle pollution,” said Robert W. Varney, Regional Administrator of EPA’s New England Office. “EPA is taking numerous actions to further reduce pollution from fine particles, including tougher emission limits for power plants in the eastern U.S. and tougher tailpipe emission limits and cleaner fuels for all cars, light-duty vehicles (including sport utility vehicles and minivans) and diesel trucks, beginning this year. The Agency is continuing to work closely with Connecticut to assess their emission contributions to the New York City multi-state nonattainment area, and together we will develop emission control strategies that will reduce fine particle levels in these two counties.”

Fine particles, frequently referred to as PM2.5, are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (in comparison, a human hair is 70 microns in diameter). Fine particles are unhealthy to breathe and have been associated with premature mortality and other serious health effects. These particles are derived from a variety of sources, including factories, power plants, trash incinerators, motor vehicles, construction activity and fires.

While fine particles are unhealthy for anyone to breathe, people with heart or lung disease, older adults and children are especially at risk. Exposure to elevated particulate levels can increase respiratory symptoms in sensitive individuals, can aggravate heart and lung diseases, and can cause premature death of people with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly. In addition, fine particles are the major cause of reduced visibility (haze) in parts of the United States, including many of our national parks.

The health standard for fine particles that is being exceeded in the New York City Metropolitan region is a year-round standard, with contributions during all seasons from many different wind directions. States with nonattainment areas must submit plans by early 2008 that outline how they will reduce pollution levels so they will meet the air quality standards. The deadline for meeting the standards will be 2010 for most areas.

EPA’s nonattainment designation will be based on air quality monitoring data collected throughout the country between 2001 and 2003. Connecticut has one monitor that violates the annual fine particle standard. This monitor is located in an industrial section in the City of New Haven, near an on-ramp to Interstate 95. There are several additional violating monitors within the multi-state Metropolitan New York City airshed.

In a Feb. 10 letter from the Connecticut Governor, the State recommended that the entire state be designated attainment for the fine particle standards. In that letter, Connecticut stated its position that the violating monitor in New Haven is “not representative of the air people breathe” in Connecticut, and that “New Haven is meteorologically distinct in terms of influencing air quality in the New York City metropolitan area.”

EPA issued the fine particle standards in 1997 after evaluating hundreds of health studies and conducting an extensive peer review process. The annual standard is a level of 15 micrograms per cubic meter, based on the 3-year average of annual mean PM2.5 concentrations. The 24-hour standard is a level of 65 micrograms per cubic meter, determined by the 3-year average of the annual 98th percentile concentrations.

Today’s announcement is part of a suite of Clean Air Rules the Bush Administration is adopting this year aimed at public health threats, including fine particles, ground-level smog, diesel exhaust, and mercury. The package of rules will produce more air-quality improvements in the next 15 years than the prior 30 years combined. EPA recently issued its Clean Air Nonroad Diesel Rule that will cut emission levels from construction, agricultural and industrial diesel-powered equipment by more than 90 percent.

Connecticut has already implemented a number of air pollution control programs which reduce fine particle pollution. These programs include power plant regulations, cleaner diesel fuel retrofits of diesel engines and vehicle emission testing.

Monitoring data collected around New England shows there has been a significant drop in pollutants associated with fine particles from the 1980s to the present. Reductions are the result of various measures by EPA and the states to curb fine-particle-forming pollutants such as sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and carbon from power plants, cars, trucks, buses and other sources. Still, in 2003, there were 20 days in New England when some part of the region experienced unhealthy fine-particle concentrations.

For more information on today's announcement, visit the following agency web site at .

Related Information:
Air Quality Index
Air Quality Web Site
Diesel Exhaust
Air Enforcement