The EPA rule limiting soot could save lives, especially in metropolitan Indiana

A proposed rule for “soot” could save lives in Indiana. The tiny particle pollution comes from things like cars, factories, and coal-fired power plants. It can damage your heart and lungs. Environmental groups say the Environmental Protection Agency could save many more lives with a stricter rule.

The EPA has proposed reducing soot levels from 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air to somewhere between 9 and 10. The agency said it could save about 4,200 lives each year.

But going down to 8 micrograms could more than double that, John Bachmann said. He worked in the EPA’s Air Office for more than 30 years and is now part of the Environmental Protection Network.

Bachmann said lowering that limit further could have an especially big impact in Indiana’s major metropolitan areas like Indianapolis.

“They are on the verge of violating the standard that we have now. Such is the nature of the Northeast corner somewhat. That can be some relatively high numbers up there — so they’re going to be affected,” he said.

Those most at risk are people who live near traffic and other sources of soot. These are typically low-income Hoosiers and communities of color.

READ MORE: Wildfires in western Canada trigger air quality alert in Indiana

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IUPUI Professor of Earth Sciences Gabriel Filippelli and his team monitor air quality around Indianapolis. He is also executive director of Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute.

Filippelli said there is a difference in air pollution even within the city – areas near highways and industrial plants tend to have more, while areas with more trees and other green spaces tend to have less.

“Vehicles play a big role in this – not just trucks and trains – but also regular passenger cars. So it’s going to be difficult to stick to that, but that’s where we need to go,” he said.

Filippelli said Indiana’s coal plants could also have trouble complying with the rule, and that could still accelerate coal plant closures — although some plants could be exempted from the change. We were unable to reach the Indiana Energy Association in time for comment.

Filippelli said that even a one-day spike in soot levels — like the one on July 4 — can trigger asthma attacks. Although the EPA proposed an annual limit for black carbon, it did not propose a new daily standard — despite recommendations to that effect by a scientific advisory committee.

Contact reporter Rebecca Thiele at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

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