Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a new national air quality standard for nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Short-term exposure to NO2 has been linked to impaired lung function and increased respiratory infections, especially in people with asthma.

The new one-hour standard is expected to protect millions of Americans from peak short-term exposures, which occur primarily near major roads.

“This new one-hour standard is designed to protect the air we breathe and reduce health threats for millions of Americans,” said EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “For the first time ever, we are working to prevent short-term exposures in high-risk NO2 zones like urban communities and areas near roadways. Improving air quality is a top priority for this EPA. We’re moving into the clean, sustainable economy of the 21st century, defined by expanded innovation, stronger pollution standards and healthier communities.”

The agency set the new one-hour standard for NO2 at a level of 100 parts per billion (ppb), and is retaining the existing annual annual average standard of 53 ppb. NO2 is formed from vehicle, power plant and other industrial emissions, and contributes to the formation of fine particle pollution and smog.

New monitoring requirements in urban areas will require monitors that will measure NO2 levels. Monitors must be located near roadways in cities with at least 500,000 residents; larger cities and areas with major roadways will have additional monitors. Community-wide monitoring will continue in cities with at least one million residents.

Based on the existing community-wide monitoring network, the EPA expects to identify or designate areas not meeting the standard by January 2012. The new monitors must begin operating no later than January 1, 2013.

Connect with Autos.ca