In this article we identify the magnitude of general and susceptible populations within the northeastern United States that would benefit from compliance with alternative U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) annual and 24-hr mass-based standards for particulate matter (PM) with an aerodynamic diameter < or = 2.5 microm (PM2.5). Understanding the scale of susceptibility in relation to the stringency or protectiveness of PM standards is important to achieving the public health protection required by the Clean Air Act of 1970. Evaluative tools are therefore necessary to place into regulatory context available health and monitoring data appropriate to the current review of the PM National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Within the New England, New Jersey, and New York study area, 38% of the total population are < 18 or > or =65 years of age, 4-18% of adults have cardiopulmonary or diabetes health conditions, 12-15% of children have respiratory allergies or lifetime asthma, and 72% of all persons (across child, adult, and elderly age groups) live in densely populated urban areas with elevated PM2.5 concentrations likely creating heightened exposure scenarios. The analysis combined a number of data sets to show that compliance with a range of alternative annual and 24-hr PM2.5 standard groupings would affect a large fraction of the total population in the Northeast. This work finds that current PM2.5 standards in the eight-state study area affect only 16% of the general population, who live in counties that do not meet the existing annual/24-hr standard of 15/65 microg/m3. More protective PM2.5 standards recommended or enacted by California and Canada would protect 84-100% of the Northeast population. Standards falling within current ranges recommended by the U.S. EPA would protect 29-100% of the Northeast population. These considerations suggest that the size of general and susceptible populations affected by the stringency of alternative PM standards has broad implications for risk management and direct bearing on the U.S. EPA's current NAAQS review and implementation.