Federal soot standards due soon

Today and tomorrow will be good air days, according to the region's Air Quality Partnership, which predicts levels of ozone and small particles.

But that's within federally-specified levels, and that may soon change.

The Obama administration is likely to announce later this week new standards for PM2 -- the smallest of particles, ones that lodge deepest in the lungs and are thought to cause the most damage.

Frank O'Donnell of the national advocacy group, Clean Air Watch, calls these particulates "the sleeping giant of clean air issues." In a hugely informative blog post that serves as a citizen's guide to particulates and the anticipated fight over how much is or isn't okay for Americans to breathe, he says the decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "could frame the clean-air agenda for the next decade and possibly beyond."

Meanwhile, Greenwide reporter Gabriel Nelson wrote on Tuesday about building pressure from lobbyists and others. Industry does not want to see the standard tightened. The American Petroleum Institute contends that would harm the economy. But health groups say the current standards result in the premature deaths of tens of thousands of Americans every year.

"Everything falls now to the White House, which is reviewing the proposal and may tread carefully in an election year in order to avoid the blistering attacks from industry," Nelson writes.

Watch this EPA page on particulates for the latest information, plus additional background, technical reports and more.