DEP Reports That Florida Meets New Federal Fine Particle Standard

TALLAHASSEE – All areas of Florida already comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recently announced revisions to the national ambient air quality standard for “fine particles” in the air. EPA on Friday announced a change in the annual concentration limit of 15 micrograms per cubic meter to 12 micrograms per cubic meter. The change comes as particle levels in Florida continue to trend downward.

“Floridians should take comfort knowing that all areas of Florida already comply with this new, more stringent standard for fine particles in the air,” said Brian Accardo, Director of the Division of Air Resource Management. “Through the work of Department staff and businesses throughout the state, Florida continues to be a national leader in air quality.”

The term “fine particles,” or “PM2.5,“ refers to particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter. These particles, about one-thirtieth the diameter of a human hair, are especially important in terms of potential health effects, having the ability to penetrate deeply into the lungs and enter the bloodstream.

Individual fine particles can be seen only with an electron microscope, but high concentrations of PM2.5 in the atmosphere may be visible as smoke or haze. They are commonly referred to as soot in the air.

 Fine particles are emitted directly into the air by motor vehicles, forest fires, agricultural burning and industrial combustion processes. In addition, a large portion of PM2.5 is formed by chemical and physical processes in the atmosphere involving emissions of pollutant gases such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

Air pollution control programs and a shift to natural gas power plants have led to lower fine particle levels throughout the state. For example, emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from Florida’s power plants have decreased by nearly 83 percent since 2001, leading to lower PM2.5 concentrations in the air. The Department expects this downward trend in both sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions to continue due to the retirement of older power plants and ongoing modernization projects.

In addition, PM2.5 emissions from motor vehicles are declining as newer, cleaner cars and trucks replace older, more polluting models on the road. As a result, the Department expects that Florida’s air quality will remain among the cleanest in the nation for fine particle pollution.

Compliance with the PM2.5 standard is determined by averaging the annual concentration values over three years at each air monitoring site. The three-year average is termed the “compliance value.” If a county has more than one PM2.5 monitoring site, the compliance value for the county is based on the monitor with the highest individual compliance value. The Department and eight county agencies monitor fine particles across the state as required by EPA’s rules. This figure displays the annual compliance values for the three-year period 2009-2011.

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