State DEP Looks to Tighten Regulations Governing Pollution from Soot

Tom Johnson | April 12, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Fine particulate matter from factories and other sources is linked to respiratory ailments and may cause tens of thousands of premature deaths annually

Polluting smokestack
The state is proposing to tighten an important rule to limit pollution from factories and other businesses that emit a contaminant linked to many respiratory ailments and other illnesses.

In a proposal in the New Jersey Register late last month, the state Department of Environmental Protection is recommending adoption of federal rules governing fine particulate matter, or soot, a pollutant believed to cause tens of thousands of premature deaths a year.

The new regulations are designed to maintain the state’s compliance with the federal air quality standard for particulate matter, a standard that New Jersey only achieved four years ago.

If adopted, the new regulation would require major sources of the pollutant, approximately 270 facilities and about 18,000 minor facilities, to use the best available pollution control technologies when seeking new permits to increase emissions of certain pollutants from their plants or businesses.

By adopting the federal requirements governing the pollutant, the state avoids having the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency oversee issuance of new permits for facilities to ensure its standards for limiting emissions are met.

Fine particulate matter, or soot, is made up of microscopic particles released from manufacturing smokestacks and other sources to produce haze that lessens visibility and can penetrate deep into the lungs, causing a range of respiratory ailments.

Particulate matter is also spewed out of diesel engines, but mobile sources are not covered by this proposed rule, which only applies to so-called stationary sources of pollution.

In its rule proposal, the department said the new regulation will improve the agency’s effectiveness in controlling the pollutant.

“This in turn will have a positive, but unquantifiable, social impact by helping to protect the public health and welfare,’’ the department said in the 69-page rule proposal. The health effects associated with exposure to particulate matter can easily reach the deepest regions of the lungs because of the size of the particles, according to the agency.

The new rule will not impose any additional costs on industry, according to the proposal, although it may lead to more stack testing and expanded air-quality modeling data.

Besides impacting visibility, the pollutant also affects vegetation, ecosystems, and other resources, the department said.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, and a persistent critic of the DEP, said the state should adopt stricter standards than those imposed by the federal government given the state’s persistent problems with air quality.

As recently as 2012, at least 13 counties in the state failed to comply with the federal air quality standard for particulate matter.

“Historically, we have taken a more stringent stand than the federal government,’’ Tittel said, citing air pollution regulations governing smog, mercury, and other pollutants. “We need to be tougher because of all the new gas pipelines being proposed and new power plants being built,’’ he added.