Air pollution threatens the health of human beings and otherliving things on our planet. While often invisible, pollutantsin the aircreate smog and acid rain, cause cancer or other serious healtheffects, diminish the protective ozone layer in the upperatmosphere, and contribute to the potential for world climatechange.
Smog and other types of air pollution can lead to or aggravaterespiratory, heart, and other health problems. It can beparticularly harmful to people with existing lung or heartdisease, the elderly, and the very young. Six of every tenAmericans live in areas that fail to meet one or more federal airquality standards during some portion of the year. However, noteveryone who lives in such areas will have health problems.Level, extent, and duration of exposure, age, individualsusceptibility, and other factors play a significant role in determining whether or not someone will experiencepollution-related health problems. Since polluted air can movefrom one area or region to another, it has the potential toaffect virtually all of us.
Acid rain--caused by sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides combiningwith moisture in the air--limits the ability of lakes to supportaquatic life, may damage trees and plants, and erodes buildingsurfaces and national monuments. Pollutants in the air can alsoreduce visibility, obscuring the majestic vistas in nationalparks such as Grand Canyon and Shenandoah.
Other air pollutants--called "air toxics"--are known or suspectedto cause cancer or other serious heath effects, such as damage torespiratory or nervous systems. Air toxics include metals,particles, and certain vapors from fuels and other sources.
Some chemicals used in refrigerators and air conditioners last along time if released into the air, rising to the upperatmosphere where they destroy the protective layer. These andother air pollutants (like methane and carbon dioxide) alsocontribute to the suspected accelerated warming of the earth,known as the "greenhouse effect."
Air pollution has many sources. Some sources are obvious--likeindustrial smokestacks, chemical plants, automobiles, trucks, andbuses. Others are not so obvious--like gasoline stations;dry-cleaners; outboard motors; lawn, garden, farm, andconstruction equipment engines; certain paints; and varioushousehold products.
Everyone can play a role in preventing and reducing airpollution. This publication describes efforts already underway,provides you with some basic air pollution information, andsuggests ways that you can do your part in helping to prevent andreduce air pollution.
Major Air Pollutants--What They Are, Where They Come From, andTheir Potential Effects
For six pollutants--ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide,particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and lead--EPA has establishedair quality standards designed to protect the health and welfareof people, plants, and animals, as well as buildings, monuments,water resources, etc. These standards are based on currentlyavailable scientific data and health studies. Levels of concernvary from pollutant to pollutant.
AIR POLLUTION CONTROL: IT'S EVERYBODY'S BUSINESS
Klamath Falls, Oregon: A woodsmoke success story
Among the highest particulate matter (PM-10) concentrationsrecorded anywhere in the nation were those which occurred in asouthern Oregon community of 37,500 called Klamath Falls. InJanuary of 1988, measurements of PM-10 were recorded which werefive times the federal health standard. The major problem wassmoke from residential woodstoves and fireplaces in conjunctionwith wintertime inversions that trapped the air, causingwoodsmoke concentrations to build to very unhealthy levels.Despite some initial resistance, Klamath County initiated strongpublic awareness and voluntary woodburning curtailment programs.
These programs proved to be insufficient. A 1989-90 health studyof school children showing significant declines in lung functionduring PM-10 episodes alerted the community to the seriousness ofthe problem. To further improve air quality, in 1991-92 over 325woodstoves were replaced with alternative heat sources purchasedwith federal and local funds. In 1991, the community alsoadopted restrictions on the use of residential wood burning devices when inversions threatened to cause high PM-10concentrations. As of the summer of 1992, these renewed effortsappeared to have paid off--preliminary data for the 1991-92 woodheating season suggested that the federal health standard wasnever exceeded. While favorable weather conditions may havecontributed in part to that winter's air quality, Klamath Fallshas made significant progress in improving air quality andultimately assuring long-term protection of public health.
Getting the lead out
By the 1970s, high levels of lead in our nation's air became amajor health concern. Beginning in 1974, EPA launched a majornew program to introduce emission control equipment on new carsand phase-out lead in the nation's gasoline. As a result, leademissions have dropped by 97 percent from 1970 levels. By 1992,about 95 percent of all gasoline sold in the United States waslead-free. Over the next few years, the remainder will be phasedout entirely.
Green Lights: Shedding new light on emission reductions
Green Lights is an EPA program aimed at cleaning the air andsaving energy by reducing emissions from power plants. About onequarter of the electricity sold in the United States is used forlighting. EPA is encouraging organizations and individuals tovoluntarily switch to energy-efficient lighting. In 1992, over600 companies, state governments and others had enrolled in theGreen Lights program and were using 50 percent less electricitywhile saving money on their electricity bills.
The current square footage in the program equals all of thecommercial real estate of Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit,and New York combined. When all the profitable lighting changesare in place, the reductions will likely add up to thousands oftons of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide and 202 million metrictons of carbon dioxide every year. This is the equivalent ofremoving 44 million cars from the road, a third of the vehiclesin use, simply by making profitable investments in modernlighting. Over the next five years, actions of Green Lightsparticipants are expected to prevent over 8.4 million metric tonsof air emissions and be a mainstay of the United States' strategyto stabilize greenhouse gas emissions.
Three weeks in 1984: An Olympic-sized story
Prior to the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, there wasconsiderable concern that the region's heavily polluted summerair would adversely affect Olympic competitors. The regional air quality agency, city and county officials, transit companies, andarea employers developed a plan for staggered working hours thatresulted in fewer cars and buses on the road. The driving andriding public cooperated. The result was a twelve percent dropin ground-level ozone (smog) levels during that period!
A New Clean Air Act: Scrubbing our skies
The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments set new goals for improving ournation's air quality and offered new approaches to achieve thesegoals. By 1992, EPA had already proposed,issued, or begun implementing new rules designed to achieve about85 percent of the 56 billion pounds of annual air pollutionreductions to be phased in by 2005.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP REDUCE AIR POLLUTION
We have described some examples of how government, industry, andprivate citizens are working successfully to reduce or preventair pollution. Everyone in the country has an important part toplay in achieving clean air. Here are a few suggested ways thatyou can make a difference in your own community.
How you drive and care for your car lS importantSince automobiles are a major source of air pollution in mostareas, your driving habits and your car maintenance can eitheradd to the problem or help to solve it.
- Plan ahead. Organize your trips. Driving fewer miles will help reduce air pollution. Combine several errands into one trip. Avoid driving during peak traffic periods when stop-and-go traffic is at its worst. This will not only save you gas but will also reduce the wear and tear on your car. Try walking or bicycling for short errands and leisure activities.
- Ride share. Carpools and public transportation reduce the number of cars on the road and miles driven. If you own or manage a business, create incentives that encourage employees to carpool. As an employee, form a carpool with others at work or in your neighborhood. Consider taking public transportation as an alternative to driving.
- Use an energy-conserving grade of motor oil. Look for the EC grade on the container and be sure to use multigrade. An EC multigrade can improve your mileage by as much as 1.5 percent. An EC II-rated oil can provide a 2.7 percent mileage boost over single grades.
- Use clean fuels. Reformulated or "clean" gasolines are becoming more widely available. Use them when possible.
- Drive at a medium speed. In normal traffic conditions, most cars operate most efficiently between 35 and 45 miles per hour; lower or higher speeds are less efficient. If you drive 55 miles per hour rather than 65 miles per hour on the highway, you can increase your gas mileage by as much as 15 percent, depending on your car.
- Drive at a steady speed. It is more fuel efficient to drive at an even speed than it is to keep speeding up and slowing down. This is true in heavy traffic as well as on the open road.
- Stop and start evenly. Gently accelerating reduces gas consumption. Coasting to a stop lets the car's momentum, not its fuel, get you where you want to go.
- Don't idle the engine unnecessarily. Contrary to popular belief, turning off and starting an engine uses less gasoline than letting the engine idle for 30 seconds. Stop the engine if it is idling at a drive-up window or in traffic jams. Limit engine warm-ups in winter.
- Travel light. The more weight your car carries, the less fuel-efficient it becomes. Take unnecessary items out of the trunk.
- Follow your owner's manual. The owner's manual that comes with your car will recommend which grade of gasoline to use, how to shift gears, and other ways you can keep your engine running at maximum environmental and economic efficiency.
Maintain your car
- Don't remove or tamper with pollution controls. The pollution control equipment on cars helps limit the pollutant emissions at the tailpipe. Removing or tampering with these controls puts more pollution into the air.
- Don't overfill or "top off" your car's gas tank. Even if you don't spill gasoline, fumes can escape. They react with nitrogen oxides and sunlight and create smog.
- Avoid releasing gas vapors. Gas vapors can harm your health as well as the environment. Many service stations are installing vapor controls on their pumps to help reduce air pollution. While many of the new nozzles have what look like elephant trunks, others look more conventional.
- Get regular engine tune-ups and car maintenance checks. Tune-ups improve your gas mileage and car performance. The spark plugs are especially important, because a worn spark plug will cause poor starting, rough idling, and poor gas mileage.
- Make sure your tires are properly inflated and your wheels aligned. Doing this can prevent excessive drag and improve fuel economy up to one mile per gallon.
- Keep car filters and catalytic converters clean. Dirty air filters increase fuel consumption; and your car's pollution control devices need to be in good working order to be effective. Follow the car manufacturer's guidelines.
- Use your car air conditioner wisely. Air conditioning is a drag on your car's engine, reducing gas mileage by as much as 20 percent. On not-so-hot days or while in stop-and-go traffic, roll down your window instead. Have leaks in your car air conditioner fixed by a certified technician using required CFC recycling equipment.
- Consider buying fuel efficient cars. When buying a car--new or used--check its posted fuel efficiency and seek the most fuel-efficient, "clean" car in the size category that meets your needs.
REDUCING POLLUTION AND CONSERVING RESOURCES AT HOME AND AT WORK
- Conserve electricity. Electricity generation can be a major source of air pollution. New home and office oriented technology can help. At home or work you can save electricity by using energy-efficient lighting wherever possible. Replacing a common incandescent light bulb with an energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulb saves 45 watts and 157 kilowatt hours. Make sure that lights and appliances are turned off when not in use. In addition, you should raise the temperature level on your air conditioner a few degrees in summer, and turn down your heat a few degrees in winter. Purchasing energy-efficient appliances will also aid in conserving energy use. Conserving electricity reduces air pollution caused by power plants.
- Participate in your local utility's energy conservation programs. Ask your local utility about its customer energy conservation program. If they have one, join up. If they don't, encourage them to start one.
- Buy fuel-efficient motorized equipment. If you are buying a power mower or other motorized garden tools, construction or farm equipment, or outboard motors, seek out those that are designed to minimize emissions and reduce spillage when being refueled.
- Avoid spilling gas. Take special care to avoid spills and the release of fumes into the air when refueling gasoline-powered lawn, garden, farm and construction equipment, and boats.
- Properly dispose of household paints, solvents, and pesticides. Do not pour these chemicals down the drain, into the ground, or put them into the garbage. Call your local environmental agency for information on proper disposal of these products.
- Seal containers tightly. Make sure that containers of household cleaners, workshop chemicals and solvents, and garden chemicals are tightly sealed to prevent volatile chemicals from evaporating into the air. Don't leave containers standing open when not in use.
- Reduce waste. When you make purchases, consider using products that are durable, reusable, or use less packaging. Repair broken items rather than buying new ones. Recycle and compost potential wastes before they become part of the waste stream. Such actions help reduce the pollutants that might reach the air during the manufacturing process or during the collection and processing of wastes for incineration or landfill disposal. If there is no local recycling program in your community, start one with the help of your neighbors and the local trash collection company.
- Use wood stoves and fireplaces wisely and sparingly. If you have a wood stove, learn how to burn cleanly and more efficiently. Remember to burn dry, well-seasoned wood, and build efficient fires that burn hot and clean. Check your stack, clean your chimney, and inspect your catalyst annually. A well maintained and operated stove produces less pollution and is better for the environment. Adhere to local or state regulations about when and where wood stove use is permitted.
- Properly dispose of refrigeration and air conditioning equipment. The Clean Air Act prohibits the release into the atmosphere of refrigerants from automobiles and home appliances during the disposal of this equipment. Contact your local government or trash pickup service to find out what procedures are being implemented in your area to ensure the safe disposal of cars and home appliances. In some areas, municipalities arrange for periodic pickups of home appliances that contain refrigerant. In others, it is required that homeowners have the refrigerant removed by a qualified service technician before the appliance can be picked up.
- Recycle refrigerant. As of July 1, 1992, individuals are prohibited from knowingly venting refrigerant into the atmosphere while maintaining, servicing, repairing, or disposing of air conditioning or refrigeration equipment. Make sure that the technician who services, repairs, or maintains your refrigerator or air conditioner has recovery equipment to capture any refrigerant that may be released. This refrigerant can later be recycled. Also, when possible, don't just refill leaky air conditioning or refrigeration systems--repair them.
GET INVOLVED IN LOCAL EFFORTS TO REDUCE AIR POLLUTION
- Let people know you care. One of the driving forces behind reducing air pollution is citizen concern and involvement (as in Denver, for example). As an individual or as a representative of a concerned group, speak up at hearings and let your local public officials know how you feel about air pollution problems in your community. Your state and local environmental agencies can tell you when hearings are held and what agency is responsible for clean air.
- Learn about local efforts and issues. Talk to your state environmental agency to find out what it is doing in your area.
- Work with a local group. Join a community group that is working to improve air quality.
- Report problems. If you think you see an air pollution problem, advise your local or state agency, or the EPA regional office near you.
YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
When environmental scientists talk about air pollution, they talkin terms of millions of tons of pollutants. It is not easy torelate such figures to the smoke that comes out of your chimneyor the exhaust coming out of your car. However, even smallsources of pollution, when added to hundreds or thousands ofother small sources, do harm the environment and are dangerous toyour health.
If we all do our share to reduce air pollution, the benefits willbe tremendous:
- If 190,000 car owners started to get regular tune-ups, they will keep some 90 million pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
- If each commuter car carries one more passenger, 600,000 gallons of gasoline will be saved and 12 million pounds of carbon dioxide will be kept out of the air.
- If consumers set their air conditioners six degrees higher, it will save 190,000 barrels of oil a day--and eliminate all those pollutants that come from burning the oil to produce the electricity involved.
SOURCES OF INFORMATION ABOUT AIR POLLUTION IN YOUR COMMUNITY
You don't have to rely solely on your own perception of what ishappening to the air around you. There are official sources ofinformation--your state and county health department andenvironmental agencies and the U.S. Environmental ProtectionAgency. Your state and local agencies will have informationabout local problems and the State Implementation Plan that hasbeen developed to deal with them. The EPA has available an annualNational Air Quality and Emissions Trends Report that includesspecific information about air quality standards for specificpollutants and air pollution levels in hundreds of metropolitanareas. Your state or local environmental agency or healthdepartment usually has information about specific areas, andlocal weather reports on television, radio, and in the newspapersfrequently include a daily air quality statement. The news mediaalso report air quality concerns expressed by community groups orpublic agencies.
Written by: EPA
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