Lawsuit Challenges EPA's Failure to Update Sulfur, Nitrogen Pollution Standards

For Immediate Release


Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7118,
Caroline Cox, Center for Environmental Health, (510) 655-3900 x 308,

Lawsuit Challenges EPA's Failure to Update Sulfur, Nitrogen Pollution Standards

Groups Push for Improved Clean Air Rules to Protect Public Health, Environment

OAKLAND, Calif. - Conservation and public-health groups filed a legal challenge today to the Environmental Protection Agency’s failure to update air-pollution thresholds for sulfur and nitrogen. Standards for the dangerous air pollutants known as sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides must be reviewed and updated every five years to take into account new scientific research on the threats they pose to public health and the environment.

“There’s no reason to delay stronger protections for millions of Americans suffering from dirty air linked to coal and gas pollution,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Clean Air Act saves lives and cleans up our skies, but it only works when there are strict protections in place to hold polluters accountable and protect the most vulnerable people in our communities.”

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to identify and set “national ambient air quality standards” for pollutants such as sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides, produced from the manufacture and burning of fossil fuels. Since the EPA last set air-quality standards for those pollutants in 2010, the research linking sulfur and nitrogen oxides to lung and heart disease, asthma, diabetes, birth problems, deaths and cancer has only become stronger. Updated standards were due before July 2015.

“Children are especially vulnerable when they breathe in these toxic chemicals, so it’s essential to use the latest science in setting safety standards,” said Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health. “That’s why it’s disturbing that EPA is still relying on an outdated approach that fails to protect millions of American children.”

Over half of the people living in the United States — more than 166 million Americans — are at risk from the harmful effects of unhealthy air. Studies have found that air pollution causes about 200,000 early deaths each year; California suffers the worst health impacts from air pollution, with about 21,000 early deaths annually. Disadvantaged communities in poorer or minority areas often suffer the worst from air pollution.

Sulfur oxides are primarily produced from coal burning at power plants. Measured as sulfur dioxide, sulfur pollution causes a range of public-health and environmental problems. Sulfur oxides contribute to heart and lung diseases, particularly threatening children and the elderly; EPA’s updated scientific studies show a link between sulfur oxides and reproductive and developmental effects in children. Sulfur oxides also contribute to acid rain and haze, damaging lakes, streams and ecosystems throughout the United States and decreasing visibility in national parks.

Nitrogen oxides are created by burning fossil fuels and contribute to the formation of ozone and soot. Measured as nitrogen dioxide, they’re linked to a range of health problems including increased lung and heart disease, diabetes, birth problems, increased deaths and cancer. They also lead to excess nitrates in drinking water supplies and soils, causing toxic algal blooms and harmful changes to ecosystems.


At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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