The US EPA has announced a new health standard for sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions that will save lives and money. The new standard, adopted under the Clean Air Act, reduces the allowable SO2 levels from 140 parts per billion averaged over 24 hours to 75 parts per billion measured hourly. This shift will prevent 2,300 to 5,900 premature deaths and 54,000 asthma attacks a year with a resulting health costs savings of $13-$33 billion annually.
Sulfur dioxide is a waste product of coal power plants and has been known to cause various respiratory problems. For the first time, the new standard takes into consideration the effects of short-term exposure to high levels of SO2. The EPA still has to update its standard to address the environmental effects of sulfur dioxide, which is a key ingredient of acid rain.