New Haven currently rates in the lowest 20th percentile on nationwide emissions standards, but because of the recent work of the New Haven Community Clean Air Initiative, many citizens may soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Until recently, New Haven had been one of the few cities in the United States that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined was exceeding the Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) standard widely set for tolerable pollution levels. At a meeting Thursday evening at the New Haven Free Public Library, city planners in conjunction with the Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP, introduced to the community an ambitious initiative designed to improve air quality.

“Nationally, the levels (of pollution) are higher in the East. Now we have a schedule we are trying to meet for meeting the new PM 2.5 standard, and one month from now we will submit a letter to find out if part or all of Connecticut should be put under our plan.” Dave Wakter, co-presenter of the Jan. 22 meeting, said.

In working for years on the project, the team from the DEP found that the key to combating the rise in air pollution focused around one question — how to reduce PM 2.5 in the air.

“If it’s due to diesel trucks, we aim the treatment there. If it’s in the plants, we’ll aim the treatment there. If it’s from the forest — well, I don’t think we’ll cut down the forest but you get the idea,” Wakter said.

Through years of testing and scouting, the DEP team set up monitoring stations in and around New Haven that are capable of identifying pollutants and specific toxins in the environment.

Although but a fraction of a human hair’s width, PM’s have been linked from everything such as heart and lung disease to possible links with lung cancer, child development problems, and low birth weight in children, according to a study done by the EPA. To combat such a potential airborne hazard, DEP representative Tracy Babbidge said that her agency was examining possible solutions.

“Our focus has been on looking at trucks, transport buses, school buses. Diesel’s been a major area for us. So we’ve been looking at school bus retrofits and a way to reduce exposure, especially for kids riding these buses,” Babbidge said.

She added that the DEP has been working with the Department of Transportation to expand the emissions reduction projects to construction sites throughout the state. She also focused on a prime culprit — vehicles — and proposed regulations that would raise awareness among drivers.

“We have regulations to address anti-idling and we have provisions for noncompliance,” she said. “It won’t just be an enforcement effort but also an education and outreach experiment, getting companies in the area to be aware of these new standards,” she said.

Babbidge also proposed making cleaner-burning fuel more accessible in New Haven, and said that even a small project like that could bring about change stretching beyond the confines of New Haven’s city limits.

“Based on all of this, we’re likely to recommend that the entire state fall under attainment standards,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”