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Environmental groups sue DNR over air standards (UPDATE)

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Two environmental groups filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing Wisconsin pollution regulators of failing to update the state’s air quality standards to reflect tighter federal restrictions.

The Midwest Environmental Defense Center Inc. and Clean Wisconsin filed the lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court. The lawsuit demands a judge declare the state Department of Natural Resources has violated the law, order the updates and put a hold on all pending air permits until the changes are completed.

Clean Wisconsin officials said Wisconsin’s lax standards have led to more health problems, including an uptick in asthma among children.

“Air quality enforcement and permitting in Wisconsin continues under outdated, inadequate standards,” the group said in a statement. “There are a number of ongoing public health issues in Wisconsin that stress the need for better air quality protection.

A DNR spokesman didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment Thursday.

The lawsuit alleges that the DNR hasn’t updated the state’s air standards to reflect tighter restrictions set in 2010 for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The environmental groups also contend the agency hasn’t matched tighter restrictions on fine particulate matter the EPA set out in 2012.

Sulfur dioxide is a gas produced from fossil fuel combustion at power plants and other industrial facilities. Extracting metal from ore and burning fuels containing high levels of sulfur can also produce it. The gas has been linked to a number of respiratory ailments, according to the EPA website.

Nitrogen oxide comes from vehicle emissions and contributes to smog. It can cause airway inflammation in people and heightened respiratory problems in asthma sufferers, the website says.

Fine particulate matter is a mix of small particles and liquid droplets made up of acids, organic chemicals, metals, soil or dust particles often found near roads and dusty industries or in smoke from forest fires or power plants. The particles can pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs, causing health problems, according to the EPA.

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