What are Toxic Air Pollutants or Air Toxics?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for six "criteria pollutants". They are ozone, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, and lead. "Air toxics" are a group of almost 200 other air pollutants that may be emitted into the air in quantities that can cause adverse health effects. There are no national air quality standards for these pollutants, but in 1990 the U.S. Congress directed the USEPA to develop control technology standards for a list of air toxics known as Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs). You can get more information about HAPs at the USEPA's Air Toxics Website.
How Do Air Toxics Affect Human Health?
People exposed to toxic air pollutants at sufficient concentrations and durations may have an increased chance of harmful health effects. Depending on the specific chemical, these health effects can include irritation or damage to the respiratory system, as well as neurological, reproductive, developmental, immune system or other health problems. In addition to direct exposure from breathing air toxics, some toxic air pollutants such as mercury can deposit onto soils or surface water, where they are taken up by plants and ingested by animals and eventually move up through the food chain and enter our diet. Some persistent toxic air pollutants can accumulate in body tissues.
What is Being Done to Protect Human Health?
In 1979, NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) adopted a regulation that specifically addressed air toxics emissions. This rule (Control and Prohibition of Air Pollution by Toxic Substances) listed 11 Toxic Volatile Organic Substances (TVOS) and required that industries emitting those TVOS to the air should register with the Department and demonstrate that they were using state-of-the-art controls to limit their emissions. Since that time, the NJDEP Air Toxics Program has continued to grow to include other approaches that result in the reduction of air toxic emissions. In addition, NJDEP has developed a three-pronged approach to decreasing air toxic emissions throughout the state. The approach includes:
- permit review to examine control technologies and performance of detailed risk assessments;
- voluntary reductions to encourage company initiatives to implement pollution prevention plans and Right-to-Know and similar disclosure and compliance assistance programs; and
- traditional pollutant control programs. More information on these strategies can be found at the NJDEP Bureau of Air Monitoring air toxics reduction web page.
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