Clear Air, Clear Choices

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is empowered to set and enforce National Ambient Air Quality Standards for pollutants, including those emitted from construction and demolition activities, which are of particular concern in rapidly developing areas.

Despite this, places like Arlington, VA, showcase a gap in the application of these regulations, as evidenced by the lack of pollution monitors in areas undergoing major development. This underscores the need for not only setting standards but also ensuring they are actively enforced, particularly in urban developments where the risk of pollution is high. The Act’s provisions for State Implementation Plans further obligate states to detail how they will control such emissions, yet the observable lack of monitoring near construction sites suggests a disconnect between policy and practice.

The concentration of pollutants is highest near their source, but…

Air pollution doesn’t stay put, it travels wherever the wind takes it

In Arlington, VA case, where a major development increase air pollution, the responsibility often lies with state and local authorities to identify the need for targeted air quality monitoring and risk assessment based on the broader mandates of the CAA. Relying on a solitary city monitor located far from construction areas fails to provide the necessary data, especially for those closer to these pollution hotspots. By having real-time specialized air monitors capable of detecting not only small particles but also silica dust, we can obtain the data needed to understand the extent of the pollution and take necessary steps to protect ourselves and our families.

Making Concrete. The danger of Silica on our health.

The effectiveness of risk assessments under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) heavily relies on accurate and comprehensive air quality data. This data is typically collected through a network of air quality monitoring stations across the country, which measure levels of pollutants like particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead.

Without concrete data on air quality, particularly regarding toxic particles from specific sources like construction and demolition sites, it becomes challenging to assess risks accurately, enforce regulations, or take protective actions for the community.

The “review” of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) as mandated by Section 109 of the Clean Air Act refers to the process by which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) periodically reassesses the health and environmental protection standards for pollutants covered under the Act. This is to ensure that the standards remain protective of public health with an adequate margin of safety, considering the latest scientific knowledge about the health effects of pollutants.

For the risk assessments to be meaningful and for the EPA to effectively review and update the NAAQS, it’s crucial that the monitoring network captures a comprehensive picture of air quality across different environments and community settings. This includes ensuring that areas prone to high pollution levels from specific activities, such as urban development, have sufficient monitoring to accurately assess the impact on air quality and, by extension, public health.

The review process below is meant to ensure that the NAAQS remain relevant and effective in protecting public health and the environment against the adverse effects of air pollution, adapting to new scientific findings and societal changes. It’s a critical mechanism for ensuring that air quality standards evolve alongside our understanding of pollution’s impacts.

The Clean Air Act (CAA), enacted in 1970 and amended in 1990, is a comprehensive federal law that regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources. While the Act primarily addresses pollutants known to cause public health problems and environmental damage, it doesn’t explicitly mention construction and demolition activities by those terms. However, the CAA does grant the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate particulate matter and other pollutants that can be emitted from such activities. Relevant sections that can be connected to the issue of pollution from construction and demolition include:

  1. National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) (Section 109): This section requires the EPA to establish and periodically review National Ambient Air Quality Standards for pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment. The EPA is tasked with setting primary (public health protection) and secondary (public welfare protection) standards for pollutants, which can include particulate matter commonly released during construction and demolition.
  2. State Implementation Plans (SIPs) (Section 110): States must develop SIPs that detail how they will achieve, maintain, and enforce the NAAQS. This process can include regulations on construction and demolition activities to control particulate matter and other pollutant emissions within a state’s jurisdiction.
  3. General Duty (Section 112(r)(1)): Although this section primarily focuses on reducing accidental releases of hazardous substances, it emphasizes the responsibility of facility operators to identify hazards that could affect public health and the environment, including those potentially arising from construction and demolition activities.
  1. Scientific Assessment: The EPA conducts a thorough review of the scientific literature on the health and environmental effects of the pollutants. This includes evaluating new studies and data on how pollution impacts human health, ecosystems, visibility, crops, and other aspects of public welfare.
  2. Risk and Exposure Assessments: The agency assesses the risks and exposure levels of the population to these pollutants, considering various factors such as concentrations, exposure times, and population vulnerability.
  3. Policy Assessment: Based on the scientific and risk assessments, the EPA evaluates the adequacy of existing standards and determines whether they need to be revised to offer better protection.
  4. Public and Stakeholder Engagement: Throughout the review process, the EPA engages with the public, scientists, environmental groups, industry stakeholders, and other interested parties to gather input and ensure that the review process is transparent and inclusive.
  5. Advisory Committee Recommendations: The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), an independent panel of experts, reviews the EPA’s assessments and recommendations to ensure they are based on sound science. CASAC provides advice on the adequacy of the current NAAQS and any need for revisions.
  6. EPA Administrator’s Decision: Based on the comprehensive review and considering the advice from CASAC and public comments, the EPA Administrator decides whether to retain the current standards or revise them to reflect the latest scientific knowledge and protect public health and welfare.