Best Environmental Practices for the 6 Criteria Air Pollutants

Six of the most common air pollutants are popularly regarded as “the criteria air pollutants” or “the six criteria air pollutants”. By definition, the criteria air pollutants are air pollutants that are:

  • widely distributed across regions or countries and massively pollute the air in many cities around the world
  • regulated by environmental protection or regulatory bodies to control health and environmental effects or impacts of pollutants
  • useful indexes or indicators of the overall air quality.

Nations that are concerned about the atmosphere and environment have a set of standards in place for the following (six) criteria air pollutants—when they are in outdoor (or ambient) air:

  • Carbon monoxide
  • Ozone (ground-level)
  • Lead
  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Particulate matter or “particles”, and
  • Sulfur dioxide

The six air pollutants listed above are identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “criteria air pollutants” because the EPA itself regulates and uses them to formulate useful science-based guidelines and best environmental practices (BEPs).

The term “best environmental practice(s)” (BEP[s]) refers to the current most suitable professional environmental control or protection strategy/practical procedure that attracts the best or most effective results.

Because criteria air pollutants originate from various types of sources, the discussions concerning them put more emphasis on the criteria air pollutants themselves, instead of their sources. As a result, the best environmental practices for each criteria air pollutant are more general.

Research and experience have shown that the best environmental practices or procedures bring optimal results that can serve as standards appropriate for widespread adoption and application.

The BEPs, techniques, actions, or measures enable people and organizations to reduce the impact of waste generation on the environment which is under the direct control and influence of humans.

The following are the six criteria air pollutants and their respective best environmental practices:

1. Carbon Monoxide

Naturally, carbon monoxide is produced from the combustion of hydrocarbon fuels in homes, vehicular traffic, chemical plants, refineries, coke oven plants, power plants that use coal and gas, farming equipment, heavy equipment, etc.

People can knowingly or unknowingly become exposed to combustion or pollutants generated from the sources stated in the previous paragraph. Carbon monoxide can exasperate heart disease and cause headaches and chest pain and even result in death.

The best environmental practices for carbon monoxide are as follows:

  • Publicizing or calling attention to areas or regions that have or produce high concentrations of carbon monoxide, and encouraging people to live away from such areas.
  • Ensuring that gasoline power engines and tools are not operated in confined spaces.
  • Using motor vehicle inspection programs to assess whether or not fuel combustion is done thoroughly.
  • Employing motor vehicle inspection programs to achieve proper and maximum fuel combustion.
  • Halting the use of cold and rapid starts of motor vehicles in order to cut down carbon monoxide levels.
  • Innovating, initiating, adopting, and establishing programs to examine the level of efficiency of people in charge of fire-fighting and other types of emergency response, and providing efficient medical care when necessary.
  • Innovating, initiating, adopting, and establishing programs to supervise how wood-burning heaters and fireplaces are used and maintained while ensuring that fuel combustion is done properly.
  • Reducing the quantity of inhaled carbon monoxide by enforcing “no smoking” rules in public buildings or places that provide a more general or specific service.
  • Substituting less hazardous chemicals, products, or compounds for more hazardous ones.
  • Formulating or inventing programs that can use fuel more efficiently to reduce carbon monoxide, other pollutants, and pollution.
  • Utilizing continuous emission monitoring systems to record, report, and disseminate information about carbon monoxide emissions from stationary sources.

2. Ozone (ground-level)

Ozone is produced whenever a chemical reaction occurs in the atmosphere between a volatile organic compound (VOC) and nitrogen oxides and in the presence of sunlight.

Volatile organic compounds may be generated from fuel combustion, petroleum refineries, chemical manufacturing plants, cars that burn gasoline, and during use and storage of hydrocarbons, petroleum, and solvents, as well as landfills.

Children are at risk during summer when ozone levels in open/unconfined air are at their highest. Ozone can destroy agricultural crops, some types of plastic, rubber, and forests, especially in depressed/low-lying areas such as valleys or streets that exist between tall buildings. These types of topography could help pave a way for high concentrations of ground-level ozone.

The best environmental practices for ozone are as follows:

  • Using cleaner gasoline, adopting the use of low-emission cars and trucks, and increasing the efficiency of gasoline in order to increase the mileage covered per gallon of gasoline burned.
  • Reducing the amount of nitrogen oxide discharged from industrial combustion sources and power plants.
  • Using nuclear, solar, hydroelectric, and wind power—whenever or wherever possible—in place of fossil fuels.
  • Reclaiming or recovering vapor at service stations during refuelling of automobiles.
  • Reducing dependence on/use of automobiles by employing mass transit and carpooling, and making less use of automobiles for little trips or distances.
  • Using low-evaporation VOC solvents and paints instead of high-evaporation VOC solvents and paints.
  • Employing special gas cans to prevent spillage during refuelling of lawn equipment.
  • Inspecting emissions of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and sulfur oxides from automobiles on a yearly basis.

3. Lead

The most common sources of lead include industrial processes, mobile sources of pollution (buses, locomotives, trucks, passenger cars, construction equipment, etc.), resource recovery areas, battery manufacturing, waste incineration, piston-engine aircraft operation, and the deterioration of lead-based paint (indoors and outdoors).

Exposure (inhalation and ingestion) to lead in both indoor and outdoor environments can damage a children’s nervous system and the renal and cardiovascular systems in adults.

The best environmental practices for lead are as follows:

  • Employing bag-house filters during secondary lead production to get rid of debris from emissions that contain lead.
  • Using electrostatic filters, fabric filters, or wet scrubbers during the primary lead production process in order to remove dust that contains lead.
  • Efficiently controlling smelting operations and transportation of fugitive lead dust to and from a smelter.

4. Nitrogen oxides

Nitrogen oxides are mainly generated from fuel combustion, particularly in industrial boilers, electric utilities, and every kind of wood-burning appliance and fireplace.

Nitrogen oxides can lower one’s immunity or resistance to respiratory infections, induce irritation and damage in the lungs, and increase acute respiratory sickness in children; in addition, it can undergo reactions in the atmosphere to form acid rain and ozone.

The best environmental practices for nitrogen oxides are as follows:

  • Utilizing low nitrogen burners which can maintain high-efficiency combustion and recirculate combustion gases through flue pipes.
  • Recirculating the exhaust gases in automotive vehicles in order to reduce nitrogen oxides.
  • Modifying combustion systems to minimize peak temperatures and combustion time (i.e., time for complete fuel combustion) at peak temperatures in industrial processes.
  • Using catalytic converters to convert hydrocarbons into water and carbon dioxide, reduce nitrogen oxides to nitrogen and oxygen, and also convert carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide.
  • Employing energy conservation techniques in buildings in order to economize or use less fuel and save energy.
  • Properly maintaining automotive vehicles to ensure that gas compression ratios, spark timing, and air-fuel ratios are suitable.
  • Utilizing continuous emission monitoring systems to record, report, and disseminate information about nitrogen oxides emissions from stationary sources.

5. Particulate matter

Both the fine and respirable (breathable) types of particulate matter can increase lung damage and respiratory problems/diseases and may cause cancer, reduced visibility, surface soiling, and premature death.

Particulate matter causes various kinds of illnesses, especially in children, elderly people, and people who have asthma, lung diseases, and heart diseases.

The best environmental practices for particulate matter are as follows:

  • Applying water or chemical dust suppressants to dry bare soil and unpaved roads, especially in places that have high traffic and many ongoing construction activities.
  • Choosing and using cleaner fuels—for example, natural gas—which discharge little to no particulate matter—for example, natural gas.
  • Utilizing low-ash fossil fuels for burning or combustion.
  • Cleaning coal before burning it, in order to reduce ash.
  • Employing more effective technologies in industrial processes.
  • Using gasification products of coal as fuel, instead of using coal.
  • Using scrubbers, filters, electrostatic precipitators, and dust collectors to remove particulate matter (such as dust particles) from gas streams.
  • Applying appropriate dust collection systems to air emitted from industrial processes/production in order to reduce the quantity of dust generated in the cement industry.
  • Using a wet suppression system or dust collection system along with the principles of ventilation to reduce dust in coal processing.
  • Consistently utilizing appropriate pollution control tools and equipment.
  • Cutting down fuel combustion by upgrading various technologies tied to fuel products.
  • Using continuous emission monitoring systems to record, report, and disseminate information about particulate matter emissions from stationary sources.

6. Sulfur Dioxide

Ninety percent of all sulfur dioxide emissions originate from the activities of paper mills, iron and steel mills, power plants, fertilizer manufacturers, petroleum refineries, and copper smelters: sulfur dioxide is usually produced from and during fuel combustion in oil- or coal-burning industries, diesel engines, refineries, and electrical utilities.

But it comes with a problem: sulfur dioxide increases respiratory problems, exacerbates asthma, and reacts in air to produce acid rain which is also produced when nitrogen oxides combine with water.

The best environmental practices for sulfur dioxide are as follows:

  • Scouring sulfur dioxide from exhaust gases before discharging the gases into the atmosphere.
  • Using only low-sulfur coal as fuel.
  • Prewashing coal before using it as fuel.
  • Using natural gas in place of high sulfur coal.
  • Applying reactive lime in the removal of sulfur or sulfates.
  • Modifying industrial processes when possible in order to get rid of sulfur and sulfur compounds.
  • Using continuous emission monitoring systems to record, report, and disseminate information about sulfur dioxide emissions from stationary sources.

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