CAPCOG’s Clean Air Coalition (CAC) updated the region’s air quality plan in November to address particulate matter (PM) air pollution for the first time, adding measures designed to reduce long-term and short-term exposure to pollution from tiny but dangerous particles. The update comes while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reevaluating the standards of PM to a range that could cause the Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown Metropolitan Area to enter a nonattainment status of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Exposure to the smallest types of particles (PM2.5) can lead to respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous system problems; cancer; and death.
Remaining in compliance with federal air quality standards helps protect public health, enables economic growth in key sectors and helps the region maintain flexibility in transportation planning due to the various regulations caused by nonattainment designation. The region’s most recent 3-year average of annual PM2.5 levels at a key local monitor was 9.6 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3), which is in attainment of the current standard of 12.0 µg/m3 but within the 8.0 to 11.0 µg/m3 range the EPA is considering for the revised standard.
The updated plan includes several measures local governments, CAPCOG, and other organizations have made to cut PM pollution and increase awareness of high short-term PM levels when they occur. These steps should help reduce PM exposure within the region and better position the region to comply with any revised PM NAAQS expected to be announced in 2023. As the CAC approaches its 20th anniversary in 2022, the recent air quality plan update shows that it remains a national leader in voluntary regional planning efforts.