WASHINGTON— Conservation groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency today for failing to clean up asthma-causing sulfur dioxide air pollution in Evangeline Parish, Louisiana; Huntington, Indiana; Piti-Cabras, Guam; and San Juan and Guayama-Salinas, Puerto Rico.
The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to identify and set national standards to protect human health and the environment from air pollutants like sulfur dioxide. Once the federal agency determines that an area’s air pollution exceeds the national standard, it must ensure that states and U.S. territories have valid plans in place to clean up that pollution. But it has failed to do so in these areas, which are home to more than half a million people.
“Reducing extremely dangerous air pollution like sulfur dioxide should be an urgent focus of the EPA’s work,” said Robert Ukeiley, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Instead, the agency consistently misses its deadlines, putting the profits of polluters first and refusing to protect human health even as study after study reveals people living in polluted zones have worse outcomes in this COVID-19 pandemic.”
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 health impacts are compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is disproportionately affecting people of color and those who live in low-income communities. Science continues to show that air pollution results in worse outcomes for people who have COVID-19. In addition, the highest risk groups for COVID-19 include people with asthma, which sulfur dioxide air pollution aggravates.
“The unsafe levels of sulfur dioxide in these communities threatens people’s health and well-being,” said Zachary Fabish, an attorney for the Sierra Club. “EPA’s obligation to finally confront this dangerous pollution is a matter of basic fairness and equity.”
“We will do everything we can to reduce pollution in our environment,” said Caroline Cox, a senior scientist with the Center for Environmental Health. “Our air should be free of dangerous pollution that has serious impacts on both human health and the environment.”
Sulfur pollution causes a range of public-health and environmental problems. Sulfur oxides contribute to heart and lung diseases and are particularly threatening to children and the elderly. The EPA’s updated scientific studies show a link between sulfur oxide pollution and developmental harm to children; sulfur oxides also contribute to acid rain and haze, damaging lakes, streams and ecosystems throughout the United States.
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 processes, and by ships, cars and heavy equipment that burn fossil fuel.