Handling air quality and air pollutants can be a complex and never-ending challenge. Air pollution is often odorless, invisible, and requires sensitive monitoring technology to detect subtle yet dangerous levels. It also requires specific standards so people can know whether the air is clean.
But who sets these standards, how are they measured, and how are they enforced?
For that matter, what can you do, as a citizen, parent, or employee, to help maintain healthy living and working conditions?
By understanding air quality standards, you become a more informed citizen and have the right knowledge to protect your local area and your family.
Let’s take a closer look at ambient air quality standards and examine two of the most important organizations for maintaining clean air.
Ambient Air Quality DefinedTo people who work in air quality or set standards for purity and pollution control, certain terms, which might be unfamiliar to others, become commonplace. However, it’s worth taking the time to define these terms to help you grasp the concept of ambient air quality.
The term ambient air simply means the natural air around us. It’s the air that would exist if there were no artificial contaminants or pollutants. Technically speaking, ambient air can refer to indoor or outdoor air, and it is generally used to describe the air we breathe, whether at work, at home, or on the go.
Why are Ambient Air Quality Standards Needed?Air quality standards have become a common part of life in modern society. These rules and regulations are required to help reduce the amount of air pollution in areas such as large cities with heavy pollution or regions with wildfires, which create a significant risk for air quality.
But air quality is not just an outdoor issue. Indoor areas, such as homes, businesses, healthcare facilities, and even nursing homes need to be aware of air quality to keep people safe and happy.
What is the NAAQS?When the Clean Air Act of 1970 was enacted, it created a major increase in the federal government’s role in controlling air pollution. Previously, air quality was the responsibility of the states, but it became clear that air pollution is an interstate concern; if one state is billowing smog, the public health of neighboring states are often affected.
Therefore, the United States government passed the Clean Air Act, which created significant regulatory programs, including the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS, often pronounced “knacks.” The NAAQS is under control of the EPA, which implements the requirements and has authority to provide enforcement.
The NAAQS Standards There are potentially hundreds of different air contaminants, but to keep things as simple as possible, the EPA divides their efforts into six principle pollutants and provides information on standards in the NAAQS table.
These six pollutants are called “criteria pollutants,” which are then given Primary or Secondary standards.
Primary standards are designed for the health of citizens, including the protection of sensitive demographics, such as children and the elderly. Secondary standards are designed for other purposes, such as the protection of air visibility and the health of crops, livestock, and wild animals. The standards are routinely revisited and adjusted.
Depending on the type of pollution, the standards are set at parts per million by volume, parts per billion by volume, or micrograms per cubic meter of air.
- Carbon Monoxide: Primary
- Lead: Primary and Secondary
- Nitrogen Dioxide: Primary and Secondary
- Ozone: Primary and Secondary
- Particulate Matter Pollution: Primary and Secondary
- Sulfur Dioxide: Primary and Secondary
NAAQS set by the OAQPSThe NAAQS are set by the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, which is a section of the EPA. This office is responsible for setting the standards, and is also tasked with making sure the standards are met.
To set the standards and monitor air quality, information is needed. Probably the most important resource for the OAQPS is the Ambient Air Monitoring Program. This program is designed to collect air quality samples through locations spread across the country. The monitoring program measures all six of the criteria pollutants, and measurements are used to determine if there is a problem at a specific location.
If problems with air quality are detected, these areas are classified as “non-attainment areas.” (They are not “attaining” the air quality standards.) If an area does not meet the standards, the OAQPS will direct state or local governments to develop plans for solving the problem.
OSHA Air Quality StandardsThe EPA is not the only organization that monitors air quality and sets standards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is a branch of the U.S. Department of Labor, also monitors air to create safe work environments. OSHA does not just monitor air in factories and manufacturing sites; they also look after air in schools, offices, restaurants, and more.
According to OSHA, employers are required to follow the General Duty Clause of the OSHA Act. This clause requires them to provide a safe working environment that does not contain any of the known air contaminants that may be health hazards. Employers are expected to be “reasonably aware” of the sources of air contaminants and poor air quality, and they should provide the resources needed to control workplace hazards. Employers are also required to inform employees about potential dangers in the air and adhere to any state or local regulations.
If you are an employee of any kind, you can track information to help identify any IAQ problems that might exist at work. If you have symptoms of poor air quality, such as nausea or headaches, be sure to track when and where the problems occur and if they are related to a certain time of day or specific task. Talk with fellow employees to see if they have similar issues, and if your symptoms are severe, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
If you are concerned about the air quality at work, don’t hesitate to bring this information to your employer or manager. The leadership at your job may be able to check ventilation or heating and cooling systems to see if there is an issue with these components.
You also have the right to contact OSHA at any time to request a workplace inspection. You can request that OSHA not tell the employer who requested the inspection, and it is against the law for an employer to fire or punish someone for contacting OSHA in any way.
Protect Your Indoor Air with High-Quality Air PurifiersWhile outdoor pollution and air quality at work are the responsibility of the EPA and OSHA, you can help maintain a high-quality standard in your home by using an air purifier with the latest technologies, including a HEPA filter or activated carbon. Choosing the right filter can ensure cleaner air in your home, so use our Air Purifier Filter Comparison to make the right choice.
If you want to protect your family by providing cleaner air, consider an advanced air purifier from Oransi. With a full selection of top-quality items, as well as information and resources for home and business owners, we are a go-to source for leading air purification.
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