Clean Air Month - Part 1

Air quality has improved dramatically since the Clean Air Act was initiated in 1970 to respond to industrial pollution that had no prevention controls in place.

Still today, hundreds of studies show that air pollution threatens the health of Washingtonians — your health. The challenge for the future will be to continue to improve air quality in the face of population and industrial growth. Together, we can make a difference.

What is clean air?

Clean air naturally balances gases such as oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. Clean air does not contain pollutants and allergens, harm the environment, disrupt your view of scenic vistas, or cause health problems. And this is defined in statute to protect human health and the environment.

A lot of unhealthy car exhaust

Air pollution is caused from a variety of sources that we all contribute to. Some of the sources are:

  • Emissions from vehicles, ships, trains, and airplanes
  • Emissions from construction equipment
  • Campfires, forest fires, and agricultural burning
  • Cooking, BBQs, and wood-burning stoves
  • Solvent-based cleaning supplies
  • Blowing dust, soot, ash, etc.
  • Commercial and industrial facilities like factories, restaurants, and dry cleaners

By doing your part, you can help protect clean air, the environment, recreation activities, and people's health.

How we protect the air

The federal Clean Air Act requires states to develop plans to monitor and reduce air pollution to protect the environment and public health. The EPA sets national standards, or limits, for six criteria air pollutants called the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.  The six criteria air pollutants are:

  • Nitrogen dioxide
  • Ozone
  • Particle pollution
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Lead

It is each state’s responsibility to monitor the air and make sure they're meeting the national standards. If air pollution reaches levels that harm human health, the state must develop a plan to clean up the air. These plans are known as State Implementation Plans

Ecology and seven local clean air agencies help keep the air clean by:

  • Developing and enforcing rules about air quality.
  • Regulating harmful emissions from vehicles, burning, and industrial activities, and reducing greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
  • Issuing air quality permits. Inspecting — and fining, when necessary — businesses and industries that have those permits.
  • Tracking air quality using about 70 air monitoring stations.
  • Developing plans to maintain and improve air quality.
  • Informing the public about air conditions by:
    • Issuing daily decisions for agricultural burn permit holders.
    • Calling burn bans.
  • Educating the public about making healthy, clean air choices.

In our next blog, we’ll explore specific ways we all can protect clean air.