Given the deadly risks of soot, especially to communities assaulted by polluting industries and vehicle exhaust from highways and heavy trucking, there’s nothing fine about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) recent proposal to clamp down on fine-particulate pollution.
You don’t have to be a scientist to understand why.
The soot particles in question are known as PM 2.5 for particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or smaller. This fine particulate often comprises a toxic brew of carbon, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide created by several sources, including combustion in fossil fuel power plants, factories, and from car and truck emissions.
It is both fascinating and maddening to consider that a single particle of this soot is so tiny that 30 of them could fit inside the diameter of a single human hair. As New York’s State Department of Health noted, “several thousand of them could fit on the period at the end of this sentence.”
That microscopic size allows these particles to travel deeper into lungs and allows them to build up as time bombs in our lungs and blood streams. And the ambient air is filled with these particles. An international team of researchers said in Nature Communications last year that PM 2.5 is the “world’s leading environmental risk factor.”
Globally, fine particulate pollution kills at least 4.2 million people a year, according to the World Health Organization, and perhaps as many as 5.7 million a year, according to a study last year led by Canadian researchers. According to the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, PM 2.5 results in 2.2 years of life lost on average, more than from cigarette smoking, alcohol and drug use, or polluted water.