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Air Quality

Despite more than three decades of progress in cleaning up the air in U.S. cities, there are still times in most urban areas when a breath of fresh air can be hard to find. Pollutants from a host of sources still make skylines fuzzy, and the acrid tinge of ozone is now an inescapable part of a hot day in the city. Air pollution in American cities causes 60,000 deaths each year, according to a 1991 EPA survey.

Global-scale air pollution problems, the depletion of the ozone layer, and worldwide climatic change present formidable challenges. A consensus has developed among scientists in recent years that the buildup of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere due to the combustion of fossil fuels is causing average worldwide temperatures to increase, and that if this greenhouse effect continues it will eventually cause dramatic climatic changes.

Considerable progress has been made since the ‘60s in controlling "point sources" of pollution - relatively large volumes of contaminants that issue from a fixed source such as the stack of an industrial boiler. Air pollution from "diffuse sources," on the other hand, have proven much more difficult to control. Diffuse pollution issues from backyards, businesses and boulevards throughout an urban area, which can make monitoring and controlling it next to impossible.

Pollution Prevention (P2) is the only practical way of dealing with the air pollution from automobiles, air-borne dust, barbecue grills, paints and paint strippers, household cleansers and many other diffuse sources. Measures that lead to more efficient automobile engines or to consumer products that minimize emissions into indoor or outdoor air can effectively prevent pollution.

The maxim "dilution is the solution to pollution" was the conceptual tool applied to air pollution for most of the 20th Century. By diluting airborne toxins with sufficient fresh air, the theory goes, their concentration and toxicity can be reduced to the point that they pose no threat to human health or to the environment. It has become clear in this era of global air pollution and climatic change that the dilution theory has its limitations. To reduce air pollution to a level that is sustainable, new strategies must be developed. Learn more about air pollution and prevention methods through the following links:

EPA Partners for the Environment - Air Quality Programs develops national and geographically focused programs for air quality management based on assessments of health and ecological effects, exposure and risk, and economic impacts and benefits.

EPA Office of Air and Radiation offers a list of publications, reports and fact sheets on air pollution prevention and trends in air quality. Online formats include PDF, HTML and streaming multimedia.

Airhead, a project of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, is designed to help people reduce the air pollution impacts of their daily activities. The website includes an emissions calculator that helps to identify and track the air pollution created by people's acitivites, and a product search that shows the relative air pollution impacts of a variety of consumer products.

The Air Quality System (AQS) is a technical area website that contains ambient air pollution data collected by EPA, state, local, and tribal air pollution control agencies from thousands of monitoring stations. AQS users rely upon the system data to assess air quality, assist in Attainment/Non-Attainment designations, evaluate State Implementation Plans for Non-Attainment Areas, perform modeling for permit review analysis, and other air quality management functions.

The American Lung Association website includes air quality fact sheets, special reports, information on indoor and outdoor air pollution, current news, and tips on how to protect yourself from air pollution.

Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center is the primary global-change data and information analysis center of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and provides information on carbon dioxide concentrations and effects.

Center for Air Pollution Impact and Trend Analysis (CAPITA) is based in the School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. CAPITA does air quality-related research, hosts the web domains for several organizations, and disseminates data, reports and software.

Center for Clean Air Policy seeks to promote and implement innovative solutions to major environmental and energy problems that balance both environmental and economic interests. They offer publications and a program directed at air quality.

Chicago Climate Exchange is a self-regulatory exchange that administers the world's first multi-national and multi-sector marketplace for reducing and trading greenhouse gas emissions.

Clean Air Council is a member-supported, non-profit environmental organization dedicated to protecting everyone's right to breathe clean air. The Council works through public education, community advocacy, and government oversight to ensure enforcement of environmental laws. The Council runs a "Clean Air Bank" that retires industrial emissions.

Clean Air World is the website of STAPPA and ALAPCO, the two national associations of state and local air pollution control agencies in the United States. The Topics section of the site provides information on a wide range of environmental topics related to all aspects of air pollution.

DOE's Clean Cities Program supports public-private partnerships that deploy alternative fuel vehicles and build supporting alternative fuel infrastructure

EPA' s Community-Based Environmental Protection tailors environmental programs to address the problems of a particular place, such as a watershed, airshed, or ecosystem.

The Clean Air Technology Center of EPA's Technology Transfer Network provides technical support and assistance in evaluating air pollution problems and pollution prevention and control techniques for stationary air pollution sources.

Earth 911 seeks to empower communities to protect their local environment. Its website includes a section on Air Pollution Prevention as well as a list of 50 tips for cleaner air.

EPA's Emission Factor and Inventory Group provides technical assistance to state and local governments in the monitoring and analysis of air pollution sources.

EnviroInfo: Air Pollution offers extensive links to world, United States, and local sources of information on pollution prevention and clean technology.

There are several regional agencies and organizations promoting clean air that offer useful references and models. Some examples are Clean Air Action in the Houston-Galveston area, Partners for Clean Air in the Chicago-northwestern Indiana area, and The Clean Air Campaign in Atlanta.