Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleging that the agency has not done enough to limit fine particulate matter in the L.A. Basin and the San Joaquin Valley.
Fine particulate matter, or so-called "PM2.5" can be as small as 1/30th the width of a human hair. It is generated from sources such as diesel exhaust, heavy industry and burning wood. The toxic emissions have been linked to lung and heart disease.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, is on behalf of several groups, including the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and Physicians for Social Responsibility.
The suit says that concentrations of PM2.5 in both regions have not met reduction targets set in 1997 by the Clean Air Act. An attorney for the plaintiffs said the suit seeks court intervention to force the EPA to designate the South Coast Air Basin and the San Joaquin Valley "serious areas," a distinction that would require more aggressive pollution control measures be put in place.
“This case is asking the court to tell EPA to move forward in protecting these areas from fine particle pollution,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, an associate attorney with Earthjustice, which prepared the suit.
The complaint states that in 2005, the EPA found that the regions were not in compliance with PM2.5 standards. That finding gave the areas six years to meet the goal.
Forsyth said that the EPA has given no indication that the deadline was met.
"There's been no attainment finding by EPA that's been published in the federal register," Forsyth said.
But Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said the Los Angeles air basin has met and even exceeded the 1997 standards. Atwood said that the EPA is reviewing data from 2011-2013 that confirm the required pollution cuts were achieved.
Officials at the EPA declined to comment, saying only that the agency is reviewing the lawsuit.
Forsyth said her legal team would need to review the data themselves before deciding on whether to pursue the case. She said they’d welcome news that air standards had been met.
“I can't speculate — depending on what the air district does or depending on what the EPA does — what our decision making would look like, but I think it would be a good thing if the South Coast has come into attainment with those standards," Forsyth said. "That is what our lawsuit is trying to do.”