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Healthy Homes & Healthy Communities

Air Quality

Air Pollution

What is it?

The EPA has national air quality standards for 6 common air pollutants: Carbon Monoxide [CO], Ozone [O3, O3], Lead [Pb], Nitrogen Dioxide [NO2, NO2], Particulate Matter [PM], and Sulfur Dioxide [SO2, SO2]. (EPA)

What local (city and state) policies are in place to regulate and/or prevent this toxin?

“Under the Clean Air Act, EPA establishes primary air quality standards to protect public health, including the health of “sensitive” populations such as people with asthma, children, and older adults.” (EPA)

“States are required to adopt enforceable plans to achieve and maintain air quality meeting the air quality standards. State plans also must control emission that drift across state lines and harm air quality in downwind states.” (EPA)

Primary standards protect health; secondary standards protect the public welfare. (EPA)

What interventions are effective?

Indoor Air Pollution (WHO)


Air quality in most cities worldwide that monitor outdoor (ambient) air pollution fails to meet WHO guidelines for safe levels, putting people at additional risk of respiratory disease and other health problems. (WHO[2])

Sources

 

Carbon Monoxide

What is it? 

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas emitted from combustion processes. (EPA)  

What causes it? 

The majority of CO emissions to ambient air come from mobile sources. (EPA)

How does it affect health?

CO can cause harmful health effects by reducing oxygen delivery to the body’s organs (like the heart and brain) and tissues. At extremely high levels, CO can cause death. (EPA)

Exposure to CO can reduce the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. People with several types of heart disease already have a reduced capacity for pumping oxygenated blood to the heart, which can cause them to experience myocardial ischemia (reduced oxygen to the heart), often accompanied by chest pain (angina), when exercising or under increased stress. For these people, short-term CO exposure further affects their body’s already compromised ability to respond to the increased oxygen demands of exercise or exertion. (EPA)

What local (city and state) policies are in place to regulate and/or prevent this toxin?

EPA set a 8-hour primary standard at 9 parts per million (ppm)  and a 1-hour secondary standard at 35 ppm.

What interventions are effective?

Everywhere in the country has air quality that meets the current CO standards. Most sites have measured concentrations below the national standards since the early 1990s, since which time, improvements in motor vehicle emissions controls have contributed to significant reductions in ambient concentrations. (EPA)

Sources

 

Ozone

What is it? 

Ozone contributes to what we typically experience as “smog” or haze, which still occurs most frequently in the summertime, but can occur throughout the year in some southern and mountain regions. (EPA) 

Where is it found?

Ozone is found in two regions of the Earth’s atmosphere—at ground level and in the upper regions of the atmosphere. While upper atmospheric ozone protects the earth from the sun’s harmful rays, ground level ozone is the main component of smog. (EPA) 

What causes it?

Tropospheric, or ground level ozone, is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds. (VOC) (EPA)

Ozone is likely to reach unhealthy levels on hot sunny days in urban environments. Ozone can also be transported long distances by wind. For this reason, even rural areas can experience high ozone levels. (EPA) 

How does it affect health?

Ground level ozone-what we breathe-can harm our health. Even relatively low levels of ozone can cause health effects. People with lung disease, children, older adults, and people who are active outdoors may be particularly sensitive to ozone. (EPA)

Children are at greatest risk from exposure to ozone because their lungs are still developing and they are more likely to be active outdoors when ozone levels are high, which increases their exposure. (EPA)

Ozone also affects sensitive vegetation and ecosystems, including forests, parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas. (EPA)

Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Ground level ozone also can reduce lung function and inflame the linings of the lungs. Repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissue. (EPA)

What local (city and state) policies are in place to regulate and/or prevent this toxin?

8-hour primary and secondary standard of 0.075 parts per million. (ppm)

What interventions are effective?

Reductions in air pollution can be achieved by a variety of methods including pollution prevention, control technologies, and control measures, and may be implemented through regulatory, market-based, or voluntary programs. (EPA)

Sources

Lead

What is it?

Lead (Pb) is a metal found naturally in the environment as well as in manufactured products. (EPA) 

What causes it?

The major source of lead emissions have historically been from fuels in on-road motor vehicles (such as cars and trucks) and industrial sources. (EPA)

Today, the highest levels of lead in air are usually found near lead smelters. The major source of lead emissions to the air today are ore and metals processing and piston-engine aircraft operating on leaded aviation gasoline. (EPA)

How does it affect health?

Once taken into the body, lead distributes throughout the body in the blood and is accumulated in the bones. Depending on the level of exposure, lead can adversely affect the nervous system, kidney function, immune system, reproductive and developmental systems, and the cardiovascular system. (EPA)

Lead exposure also affects the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. The lead effects most commonly encountered in current populations are neurological effects in children and cardiovascular effects (e.g. high blood pressure and heart disease) in adults. Infants and young children are especially sensitive to even low levels of lead, which may contribute to behavioral problems, learning deficits and lowered IQ. (EPA) 

What local (city and state) policies are in place to regulate and/or prevent this toxin?

Rolling 3 month average primary and secondary standard of 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter (mcg/m3).

What interventions are effective?

As a result of EPA’s regulatory efforts to remove lead from on-road motor vehicle gasoline, emissions of lead from the transportation sector dramatically declined by 95 percent between 1980 and 1999, and levels of lead in the air decreased by 94 percent between 1980 and 1999. (EPA) 

Sources

 

Nitrogen Dioxide

What is it?

Nitrogen dioxide is one of a group of highly reactive gasses known as “oxides of nitrogen” or “nitrogen oxides (NOx).” (EPA)

What causes it?

Nitrogen dioxide forms quickly from emissions from cars, trucks and buses, power plants, and off-road equipment. (EPA)

How does it affect health?

Current scientific evidence links short-term NO2 exposures, ranging from 30 minutes to 24 hours, with adverse respiratory effects including airway inflammation in healthy people and increased respiratory symptoms in people with asthma. (EPA)

NO2 concentrations in vehicles and near roadways are appreciably higher than those measured at monitors in the current network. In fact, in-vehicle concentrations can be 2-3 times higher than measured at nearby area-wide monitors. Near-roadway (within about 50 meters) concentrations of NO2 have been measured to be approximately 30 to 100% higher than the concentrations away from roadways. (EPA)

NOx react with ammonia, moisture, and other compounds to form small particles. These small particles penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs and can cause or worsen respiratory, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and can aggravate existing heart disease, leading to increased hospital admissions and premature death. (EPA)

What local (city and state) policies are in place to regulate and/or prevent this toxin?

1-hour primary standard of 100 parts per billion

Annual primary and secondary standard of 53 ppb

What interventions are effective?

Emission control measures leading to reductions in NO2 can generally be expected to reduce population exposures to all gaseous NOx. This may have the important co-benefit of reducing the formation of ozone and fine particles; both of which pose significant public health threats. (EPA)

Sources

 

Particulate Matter

What is it?

“Particulate matter,” also known as particle pollution or PM, is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. Particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles. (EPA)

PM10

PM2.5

Where is it found?

These particles come in many sizes and shapes and can be made up of hundreds of different chemicals.

What causes it?

PM2.5

PM10

How does it affect health?

Particle pollution—especially fine particles—contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems. Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including:

Environmental effects:

What local (city and state) policies are in place to regulate and/or prevent this toxin?

PM2.5

PM10

Sources

 

Sulfur Dioxide

What is it?

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is one of a group of highly reactive gasses known as “oxides of sulfur.” (EPA)

Where is it found?

The largest sources of SO2 emissions are from fossil fuel combustion at power plants (73%) and other industrial facilities (20%). Smaller sources of SO2 emissions include industrial processes such as extracting metal from ore, and the burning of high sulfur containing fuels by locomotives, large ships, and non-road equipment. (EPA)

How does it affect health?

Current scientific evidence links short-term exposures to SO2, ranging from 5 minutes to 24 hours, with an array of adverse respiratory effects including bronchoconstriction and increased asthma symptoms. These effects are particularly important for asthmatics at elevated ventilation rates (e.g. while exercising or playing) (EPA)

SOx can react with other compounds in the atmosphere to form small particles. These particles penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs and can cause or worsen respiratory disease, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and can aggravate existing heart disease, leading to increased hospital admissions and premature death. (EPA)

What local (city and state) policies are in place to regulate and/or prevent this toxin?

1-hour primary standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) (EPA)

3-hour secondary standard of 0.5 parts per million (ppm) (EPA)

What interventions are effective?

Emissions that lead to high concentrations of SO2 generally also lead to the formation of other Sox. Control measures that reduce SO2 can generally be expected to reduce people’s exposures to all gaseous SOx. This may have the important co-benefit of reducing the formation of fine sulfate particles, which pose significant public health threats. (EPA)

Sources

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