Why Test the Air

Each year millions of pounds of toxic substances are released into the air we breathe. These substances come from large factories, small businesses, motor vehicles, natural contributors like forest fires and a number of other sources. The effects of these myriad substances on human and animal populations can range from minor and reversible like eye irritation, to debilitating like asthma, or as serious and deadly as cancer. Humans can be exposed to air pollution in a number of ways but the primary exposure pathways are direct ingestion through breathing and direct ingestion through eating or drinking food products that have been contaminated by air deposition.

Air deposition can be as straightforward as residue on food surfaces that are inadequately cleaned or as complex as chemicals that bioaccumulate in the food chain following deposition on water bodies (fish) or forage materials (cattle and other grazing livestock). In the first example, the contaminants are taken up by small fish and bottom dwellers and eventually end up in the larger fish consumed by humans. In the second example, contaminants accumulate in the body fat of grazing animals and end up in edible meat and dairy products like milk, cheese etc. The Pace Analytical Air Testing Laboratory can assist with your air toxics challenges.

Who Is Regulating Air Emissions

The regulation of air contaminants falls under the authority of two regulatory agencies:

The USEPA regulates outdoor air under the authority of the Clean Air Act, which was originally signed into law in 1970. Air contaminant sources are categorized into three broad classifications including:

  • Point Source - These are large stationary sources, and usually large volume generators of specific contaminants. Point Sources are usually power plants or factories and are regulated by EPA through the application of individualized emissions permits.
  • Area Source - These are normally stationary as well, but smaller in size and in output of contaminants. Examples of area sources can be gas stations or dry cleaners. Area sources are controlled through more generalized regulations, often at the State level, and through the MACT (maximum achievable control technology) rules established by industry.
  • Mobile Source - These are sources that move and, although the largest number of these are privately owned motor vehicles, this category also includes: trains, ships, airplanes, off road equipment and over the road trucks. Mobile Source emissions are primarily controlled by state emission laws, based upon attainment or non-attainment of national guidelines.

Indoor air is regulated in the workplace under the authority of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). The agency that oversees this activity is OSHA. Most monitoring in the workplace is based upon personnel monitoring and is most often performed in accordance with OSHA or NIOSH methodology. Acceptable levels are based upon established Safe Tolerance Exposure Levels (STELs). Indoor air contamination can be produced by: industrial processes, cleaning solvents, combustion, new construction materials or, as recently discovered, by the accumulation of soil gas vapor in lower floors of a structure. This is commonly referred to as vapor intrusion.

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