Lawsuit Launched to Reduce Asthma-Causing Sulfur Air Pollution in 11 States, Two U.S. Territories

Areas In Violation Include Arizona, Illinois, Louisiana, New York, Texas

Oakland, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club have filed notice of their intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to ensure that areas in 11 states and two U.S. territories have effective plans for cleaning up sulfur dioxide air pollution. 

More than 1.6 million people live in these areas, which have sulfur dioxide pollution high enough to harm human health and the environment. 

“The EPA’s delay in cleaning up this harmful air pollution not only endangers the health of hundreds of thousands of people but also encourages ongoing use of dirty coal and oil,” said Ryan Maher, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These delays amount to illegal subsidies for fossil fuels, and they’re only going to slow our transition to a clean energy economy.”

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set national ambient air quality standards to protect people and the environment from pollutants like sulfur oxides. When those standards are violated, the agency must ensure that states have valid plans in place to clean up the pollution.

“Action to address sulfur dioxide pollution in these toxic environmental hotspots is long overdue,” said Zachary Fabish, a Sierra Club attorney. “The EPA must be held accountable to its statutory obligations to preserve and restore local air quality.”

The largest source of sulfur air pollution is the combustion of fossil fuels by power plants. Sulfur dioxide is also produced during industrial processes, such as extracting metal from ore and oil refining, and by ships, cars and heavy equipment that burn fossil fuels.

Some of the primary sulfur dioxide sources at issue in today’s notice include Arizona’s two copper smelters; coal-fired power plants in Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas; an aluminum smelter in New York; and chemical plants in Indiana and Louisiana. 

Other areas suffering from air pollution covered by today’s notice are located in Guam, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Puerto Rico and Virginia.

Pollution associated with sulfur dioxide causes a range of public health and environmental problems. According to the EPA, exposure to sulfur dioxide air pollution can harm human health in as little as five minutes, triggering asthma attacks and harm to the lungs and cardiovascular system that can be fatal. 

Sulfur dioxide also contributes to acid rain and haze, damaging lakes, streams and ecosystems throughout the United States and decreasing visibility in national parks.

Today’s notice is part of the two groups’ ongoing work to compel the EPA to protect human health and the environment from sulfur pollution in accordance with the Clean Air Act’s requirements.

More information about the fight against air pollution is available at Protecting Air Quality Under the Clean Air Act

About The Center for Biological Diversity

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. 

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit