Actions taken by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act have caused U.S. toxic air emissions to drop “significantly” — in some cases by more than half — since the law was amended in 1990, the regulatory agency told Congress in a report Thursday.
Since 1990, an estimated 3 million tons of toxins from mobile and stationary sources have been removed from the air every year, according to the report. Emissions of benzene, a pollutant found in natural gas, have dropped in outdoor air by 66 percent, while the amount of mercury from man-made sources like coal plants has dropped by nearly 60 percent, the report said. The amount of lead has decreased the most, by 84 percent since 1990.
“This report gives everyone fighting for clean air a lot to be proud of,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement accompanying the report. “But we know our work is not done yet. … we are committed to reducing remaining pollution, especially in low-income neighborhoods.”
The report released Thursday is called the Second Integrated Urban Air Toxics Report, the second and final required update to Congress about how effective the 1990 updates to the Clean Air Act have been. Those updates to the law required EPA to take specific actions to reduce air pollution, by not only developing regulations to reduce specific pollutants from specific sources, but also to establish partnerships with state and local governments to solve local pollution problems, to track progress on pollution reduction efforts, and to hold education and outreach activities about air toxics.
One of the biggest reductions that has been made since the amendments were passed is toxins from mobile sources, such as cars, trucks, and construction equipment. Since 1990, the report said those emissions have been cut in half, with 1.5 million tons of air toxics removed from the air every year. The EPA said it estimates toxins from mobile sources to decrease even faster as time goes on, predicting that air toxins from cars and trucks would fall 80 percent by 2030 compared with the 1990 levels.
In addition, an estimated 1.5 million tons per year of air toxics like arsenic, benzene, lead, and nickel have been removed from stationary sources like power plants and factories, the report said. Pollutants like these can cause cancer, in addition to immune, respiratory, neurological, and reproductive problems, the EPA said.