Despite the implementation of the Clean Air Act, we still have air pollution issues. In rural Oregon, the number of sources of particulate emissions, such as wood stoves, mean that areas like Klamath Falls and Lake View are near or above the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) (see Clean Air Act Basics), putting Oregonians at higher risk. In urban areas, the density of the variety of sources of air toxics puts Oregonians at higher risk (these areas may also have problems with pollutants like Ozone or Carbon Monoxide). Sometimes the existing regulatory and legal structure are incapable of dealing with these problems.
Neighbors for Clean Air’s goal is to educate everyday citizens and policy makers in Oregon on these situations and suggest possible solutions.
Diesel Particulate Matter
Diesel particulate matter (DPM), sometimes referred to as black carbon, is a major source of risk associated with air toxics in Oregon. DPM is made up of ultra fine particulates less than 2.5 microns in diameter. These particulates are so small they bypass most of the body’s normal defense mechanisms and can become lodged deep in the lungs and even enter the blood stream. DEQ estimates that nearly 500 Oregonians die prematurely every year as a result of DPM pollution. DPM is mainly an issue of older, dirtier diesel engines. Newer diesel engines can reduce DPM emissions by 85 to 98%.
Learn more about DPM and what can be done to reduce it here.
Most regulation of so called “point sources” of pollution is aimed at achieving the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). EPA sets and updates the NAAQS to the level of pollution in the ambient air that is safe for public health. Most requirements for industrial sources therefore focus on the six NAAQS: carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and particulate matter. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and sulfur dioxide are also regulated as precursor pollutants: VOC and NOx combine to form ground level ozone; NOx and SO2 are leading sources of secondary particulate matter. These pollutants are referred to as “criteria pollutants.” Clean Air Act regulation of point sources, non-point sources, and mobile sources has done an excellent job in many areas of significantly reducing the levels of the criteria pollutants.
However, the Clean Air Act’s requirements for hazardous air pollutants, those pollutants known or suspected to cause cancer or other health risks, focuses on technological requirements, not ambient concentrations. Even when focusing on health considerations, the regulations do not do a good enough job of considering the impact of multiple sources of hazardous air pollutants.