July 29, 2020

Blunt Rochester, Duckworth Introduce Bill to Improve Air Quality Monitoring & Protect Front-Line Communities


[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE-AL) today introduced the Public Health Air Quality Act, which would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement immediate fenceline monitoring for toxic air pollutants at facilities contributing to high local cancer rates and other health threats from dangerous pollutants. U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Ed Markey (D-MA) joined Duckworth in introducing this legislation in the Senate while U.S. Representatives Donald McEachin (D-VA-04), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA-44), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA-07) and Bobby Rush (D-IL-01) joined Blunt Rochester in introducing the legislation in the House.

“Black Americans and other communities of color are dying at disproportionate rates during this pandemic, in part because of the long-term, cumulative health consequences and complications associated with toxic air pollution from facilities located in their neighborhoods,” said Duckworth. “We must do everything we can to protect these fenceline and front-line communities, which is why I’m proud to work with U.S. Representative Blunt Rochester on this important legislation that would help assess the pollutants they are currently exposed to by expanding our national air quality program during this critical time in our nation.”

“In the midst of a global health pandemic which attacks the respiratory system, we’ve seen in incredibly stark terms the compounding dangers of polluted air for front-line communities. But the truth is that these communities have been subject to unsafe air for decades and have suffered the long-term health consequences and complications because of it,” said Blunt Rochester. “The first step in protecting these communities is figuring out what pollutants they are currently exposed to. Everyone deserves to breathe clean air, and that is what we are fighting for with this bill. I’m proud to join with Senator Duckworth and House & Senate Environmental Justice leaders for this aggressive expansion of our national air quality monitoring program.”

“Access to clean air should not be determined by your zip code or the color of your skin, yet communities of color continue to be disproportionally harmed by airborne toxic pollutants that often lead to long-term health concerns,” said Durbin. “We need to get serious about environmental justice and protecting the fenceline communities that are at risk of breathing in these pollutants. I’m proud to cosponsor the Public Health Air Quality Act of 2020 to ensure that the EPA immediately implements monitoring the air quality of fenceline communities & that residents are breathing in clean air.”

“Black communities and communities of color continue to be disproportionately harmed by the ongoing historic burden of bad air, and the harm has only gotten more acute as a result of the respiratory coronavirus pandemic,” said Markey. “A massive investment in and expansion of our air quality monitoring and enforcement systems are bedrock components of environmental justice. I am glad to join Senator Duckworth and Representative Blunt Rochester on this important legislation to help deliver that justice to communities nationwide.” 

“In the wake of George Floyd's murder, there's lots of attention on systemic racism in law enforcement, but our whole society is shaped by it," said Merkley. "Just look at where pollution is most concentrated. It’s time for Congress to collect detailed data on the toxic air pollution that disproportionately sickens communities of color and low-income communities, and finally take meaningful steps to address it.”

The Public Health Air Quality Act would:

  • Require the EPA to implement immediate fenceline monitoring for toxic air pollutants at facilities contributing to high local cancer and other health threats from dangerous pollutants like ethylene oxide, chloroprene, and formaldehyde within 4 months for at least a two-year period.  Air monitoring data and any actions taken using the data must be made publicly available.  EPA must update emission test methods and emission factors if necessary based on new air data.   
  • Ensure that fenceline monitoring and continuous emission monitoring are core components of national emission standards for chemical, petrochemical, and other sources of fugitive toxic air pollution to assure compliance with pollution limits, and so that communities never again have to wonder what is in their air.  EPA must issue rules to implement the best available method of fenceline monitoring and corrective action in the high threat source categories with fugitive emissions within one year, applying at least the fenceline monitoring method used at petroleum refineries and where needed to assure compliance or protect public health, using more protective monitoring methods such as summa canisters and optical remote sensing or real-time monitoring technology. 
  • Require a rapid expansion of the NAAQS or national ambient air monitoring network through the addition of at least 80 new NCore multipollutant monitoring stations in communities where this is most needed to protect people with asthma and other health conditions and from COVId-19.  EPA must also assess and report on the status of the entire network and a plan to address all failing monitors and must perform repair and maintenance at broken or failing monitors where this is most needed.   
  • Deploy at least 1,000 new air quality sensors in communities affected by air pollution and COVID-19 to boost and complement the NAAQS monitoring network and increase communities’ access to information about air quality. 

In May of this year, Duckworth and Blunt Rochester led a coalition of 58 of their House and Senate colleagues in urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to do everything it can to ensure that air-monitoring networks and air monitors that are critical to informing public health protections remain in operation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The full text of the bill can be found here