Developing a Framework for Effective Air Quality Management

3.3 Setting Air Quality Goals for a Region

3.3.1 The Need for Air Quality Goals
Attempting to carry out an air quality management effort without clear goals can be an exasperating and ineffective way to try to improve air quality. Air quality goals make clear to everyone involved what the region is attempting to achieve and provide the driving force for air pollution reduction. It is thus critical for a region to establish air quality goals as the first step of the air quality management process. Without goals, the air quality management process is like a ship without a rudder. In this case, the air quality management process will drift about with raging debates about the need to move forward and how fast and how far. The policy makers need to clear this issue up at the beginning of the air quality management process. Then the technologists can move the process forward. The magnitudes of the standards that are set are normally based on the air quality impact that is of concern. These impacts can be human health impacts, human welfare impacts, or ecological impacts. Human health impacts normally consider both short-term/acute impacts such as death or impairment and long-term chronic health impacts such as cancer or reduced immune deficiencies. Welfare impacts cover the full range of issues from damage to agriculture and structures to damage or modification to natural vegetation as well as visibility degradation and acid deposition into lakes. Ecological impacts include global climate change, loss of habitat, and similar problems.

There has been and continues to be considerable debate over who or what the standards should protect. In the case of human health based standards the question is often “who do we protect?” Do we protect the most sensitive individual that can be found in society; or do we protect the average individual? In the United States, the laws concerning the setting of health-based standards have been interpreted to require the protection of all members of society with a margin of safety. This margin of safety might be interpreted to help protect the most sensitive members of society, which it might to some degree. However, this does not mean that there are no members of society that might experience damage from breathing air that meets U.S. air quality standards. There seems to always be a group of extremely sensitive individuals that could still be impacted. No attempt has been made in the U.S. to develop any mathematical formulation to determine how far into the very sensitive population groups the standards should consider. Using similar definitions to the U.S. definition, different States in the United States have arrived at different levels of standards and the accumulation of greater amounts of health data have almost always resulted in further tightening of the air quality standards. All State standards in the U.S. must equal or exceed the national standards. The United States Environmental Protection Agency is required to review the national air quality standards as new data is accumulated.

An effective air quality goal should consist of determining three equally important parameters, all of which should be set at the outset of the goal development process:

* The level of air pollution (aka a standard) to be achieved

* A timeline for achieving the desired level

* Consequences of failing to attain the goal

The purpose of this section of Chapter 3 is to discuss air quality standards in the context of establishing air quality goals for a region to support the air quality management process, and the reader is referred to Chapter 2 for a more exhaustive discussion of air quality standards.