Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 29, 2020


Ashley Bruner, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 666-0731,
Brian Willis, Sierra Club,
Caroline Cox, Center for Environmental Health, (541) 645-2626,

Lawsuit Filed Against EPA to Protect People in Seven States From Asthma-causing Sulfur Dioxide Air Pollution

WASHINGTON— Three conservation groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency today for failing to meet congressionally mandated deadlines for enforcing reductions in dangerous sulfur dioxide air pollution, which is largely caused by burning fossil fuels.

According to the EPA, areas in seven states have sulfur dioxide air pollution that violates national air-quality standards, causing environmental damage and human health problems like asthma attacks. The law requires the agency to ensure that states have plans in place that are actually reducing air pollution.

More than 900,000 people are being affected, in areas including Hayden and Miami, Arizona; Alton Township, Illinois; Muscatine, Iowa; Saint Bernard Parish, Louisiana; Detroit, Michigan; part of Sullivan County in Tennessee; and Rhinelander, Wisconsin.

“People in these communities have been stuck breathing polluted air for far too long because the EPA has not done its job,” said Ashley Bruner, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Sulfur dioxide aggravates asthma, contributes to heart and lung diseases, and is particularly threatening to children and the elderly. It’s shameful that the EPA has to be forced to comply with its own mandate to do something about it.”

According to the EPA, exposure to sulfur dioxide air pollution harms human health in as little as five minutes and can cause asthma attacks, as well as other harm to the lungs and cardiovascular system that can be fatal.

“These communities are even more vulnerable now as studies continue to show that air pollution results in worse outcomes for people with COVID-19,” said Zachary Fabish, an attorney with the Sierra Club. “These communities need help, and the EPA is once again putting the interests of polluters above the interests of people who deserve clean air to breathe.”

The largest source of sulfur air pollution is the combustion of fossil fuels by power plants and other industrial facilities. Sulfur dioxide is also produced during industrial processes such as extracting metal from ore and oil refining, and by ships, cars and heavy equipment that burn fossil fuels.

“We will not let the EPA play games with air quality,” said Caroline Cox, a senior scientist with the Center for Environmental Health. “The EPA has left us no choice but to sue to enforce the congressionally mandated deadlines in the Clean Air Act.”

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set national ambient air-quality standards to protect people and the environment from pollutants like sulfur dioxide. The Act also sets deadlines for implementation of the national standards to ensure that air quality actually meets the standards.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Center for Environmental Health works with parents, communities, businesses, workers, and government to protect children and families from toxic chemicals in homes, workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods.

The Sierra Club is a grassroots environmental organization with more than 3 million members and supporters working to safeguard the health of communities, protect wildlife, and preserve wild places through public education, lobbying, and litigation.

center locations