For Immediate Release
On December 14, 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took important steps to protect the health of Americans from fine particle pollution by strengthening the annual health-based National Ambient Air Quality Standard for fine particles (PM2.5) from 15.0 to 12.0 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3). The new standard will also affect calculations used for the Washoe County Air Quality Index (AQI) and the Keep it Clean, Know the Code Program.
The lower end of the "Moderate" AQI range will now be triggered by fine particle pollution levels approximately 3 µg/m3 lower than under the old standard averaged over 24-hours. The result is that fine particulate pollution levels that would previously have been calculated as an Air Quality Index of 39 and in the "Good" range, will under the new standard be calculated as an AQI of 51, indicating "Moderate" air quality.
Because of these stronger standards, Washoe County is expected to experience fewer "Good" air quality days, and more "Moderate" air quality days during winter months and wildfire events. The change is expected to have a smaller impact on the number of "Yellow" and "Red" burn code days which may increase as well. The Washoe County Health District, Air Quality Management Division will begin utilizing the new AQI calculation methodology today, Wednesday, January 2.
Coincidentally, strong temperature inversions are forecast to persist into the weekend trapping particle pollution near the valley floor. As a result, residents should "Know the Code" and check the daily burn code before lighting fireplaces and wood or pellet stoves. It is anticipated the "Yellow" or "Red" burn codes may be issued if particle pollution levels increase and persist under these weather conditions. The Burn Code is available on the AQMD website, www.OurCleanAir.com, or by calling, 785-4110.
Fine particle pollution can penetrate deep into the lungs and has been linked to a wide range of serious health effects, including premature death, heart attacks, and strokes, as well as acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma. The standard was proposed in June, 2012, consistent with advice from independent science advisors. It is based on an extensive body of scientific evidence reviewing thousands of studies including many showing negative health impacts at lower particulate levels than previously understood. It also follows extensive consultation with stakeholders, including the public, health organizations, and industry; and, review of more than 230,000 public comments that were submitted to the EPA.