Air Quality

“All things share the same breath – the beast, the tree, the man… the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports”–Chief Seattle


The Clean Air Act is a Federal law that requires the Environmental Protection Program (EPA) to mandate certain National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Originally signed into law by former President Lyndon B. Johnson, it was critically amended with overwhelming bipartisan support in 1990 and signed into law by former President George H.W. Bush. The NAAQS limits the maximum  concentration of six “criteria pollutants” of the air outside air we breathe.

The criteria pollutants are:

  • carbon monoxide (CO)
  • lead (Pb)
  • ozone at ground level (NOT the good ozone we need for UV protection from the sun) (O3)
  • nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
  • particulate matter (e.g., PM2.5)
  • sulfur dioxide (SO2)

These pollutants not only harm human health, but also cause damage to animals, plants, and property. In my research, I primarily focus on ozone concentrations in the outdoor air. Breathing high concentrations of ozone could cause health complications and/or premature death. Ozone is a secondary pollutant (meaning that it is not directly emitted, but created by the sun zapping some chemical compounds and creating new compounds to form O3). This means that regulation of ozone precursors (chemicals that make ozone) from sources like power plants, cars, and ships are necessary to maintain healthy concentrations. Children have the greatest risk of health problems due to ozone exposure. Air quality alerts are to be taken seriously. Investigate some of the links provided on this page and know the risks of outdoor activity on polluted days. 

Learn more about ozone pollution


We KNOW that regulations work. The Clean Air Act (CAA) was one of the greatest success stories of environmental legislation.

Example: Acid Rain. In summary, acid rain is the result of SO2 emissions (emitted mainly from burning of fossil fuels). Due to the standards set forth by the CAA and coordination with states, SO2 concentrations have dramatically decreased (you could see this in the figures below: SO2 concentration from 1991, the year I was born, to 2014). This means that acid rain has also decreased drastically. Bottom line? Regulations WORK and clean air and water is a NECESSITY when living and breathing in an industrial age. 

Regulations work and the air is getting cleaner. In addition, there is economic growth in the renewable energy sector. Yet, certain groups continue to advocate for making a U-turn and heading back to the old days in terms of technological advances for energy production.
Kind of reminds me of this:
Knows coal is not sustainable.
Or the Family Guy Amish Guy episode: 
“We solemnly believe that although humans have been around for a million years, you feel strongly that they had just the right amount of technology between 1835 and 1850; Not too little and not too much.”
Technological advances in energy are moving forward whether we like it or not. If we want the U.S. to be the world leader in science and technology, then we better keep up the good fight for advances in energy technology. I’d rather be the conductor than stuck in the back by the toilets when I get on the train.
 Air Quality Links: