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Air Quality Goal Setting

How do I set air quality goals?


Air Quality Goal Setting is the activity of establishing standards based on scientific or technical assessment with the aim of mitigating the harmful health and environmental effects of various air pollutants.

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AQM System Flow Chart Highlighting Air Quality Goal Setting

Air quality goal setting is the process by which a country sets targets for its air quality management system. These goals may represent an acceptable level of a pollutant in the ambient air, or a desired level of control for a facility that emits pollutants. For most countries, this represents the starting point for any air quality management program.

The United States controls air pollutants through two main programs: (1) the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) program, and (2) the Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP) program.

  • NAAQS are established for six pollutants: ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter. The standards are required by general national legislation to protect public health; the specific levels are set by regulations or rules developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • HAPs are those pollutants that cause or may cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as reproductive effects or birth defects, or adverse environmental and ecological effects. In the United States, goal setting for air toxics is a two-staged process.

First stage - U.S. E-PA sets technology-based national emission standards to address air toxic pollution. These standards require major stationary sources to meet emission limitations by using maximum achievable control technology.

Second stage - U.S. EPA is then required to evaluate the health risks that may remain after the technological controls have been implemented. Some sources may be subject to additional control requirements if they pose an unacceptable health risk to populations living near the facility.

A good synopsis to help understand the air quality process in the U.S. is described in the Citizens' Guide to Air Quality in Montana, which provides a basic description of the federal and Montana state ambient air quality standards, regional ambient air quality concerns, and case histories for four areas in Montana that highlight the success of their state implementation plans.

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How do I set air quality goals?

There are several good examples to follow for setting air quality goals, including documents produced in the United States and Europe. No matter where you are located, it is important to involve the public. As with the other management activities related to the AQM process, it is critical to contact the regulated community and other affected parties, as the public should be consulted as part of the strategy development process. This early consultation reduces later challenges and streamlines implementation.

For the U.S. example, you may:

For the European example, you may:

  • Learn about the development of strategies for the control of air pollution through the WHO Air Quality Guidelines, which includes the criteria used in establishing guideline values, a summary of the guidelines that form a basis for setting national standards for air pollution, and a description of the use of the guidelines in protecting public health; or
  • Link directly to the European Union's directives, which set the limits for certain air pollutants. Exit EPA

To see another example of setting air quality goals:

  • Link to New Zealand's Proposed National Environmental Standards for Air Quality, which sets out their proposed national environmental standards for air quality, including ambient standards for five common contaminants; standards that prohibit specific activities known to discharge air toxics such as dioxins; and a design standard for new solid-fuel home heating appliances based on their particulate emissions.


Organizations and Agencies

Publications and Reports

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