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Critical Health Issues of Criteria Air Pollutants

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Abstract: This chapter summarizes the key health information on ubiquitous outdoor air pollutants that can cause adverse health effects at current or historical ambient levels in the United States. Of the thousands of air pollutants, very few meet this definition. The Clean Air Act (CAA) of the United States requires that the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identify such pollutants (called criteria pollutants) and set standards (National Ambient air Quality Standards [NAAQS]) to protect sensitive subpopulations from the adverse effects of these compounds. The criteria pollutants are ozone, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide (CO), and lead. The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed air quality guidelines (AQG) for Europe in reference to the health effects of these pollutants (WHO, 1999).

Exposures to these pollutants are widespread because of the wide diversity of their sources (Table 1). Table 2 shows their major classes of effects, susceptible subpopulations, the U.S. NAAQS, and the WHO AQG. The NAAQS are set according to a complex process involving substantial review of the literature and several reviews of the resultant interpretations by committees of experts, environmental groups, industry groups, and the interested public. The CAA requires that the NAAQS be set to protect susceptible subpopulations with an adequate margin of safety, without regard to the economic impact, and it requires they be reevaluated every 5 years. The WHO AQG are set by panels of experts with subsequent peer review. The AQG are not standards, per se. Rather, they provide guidance to many nations and the European Community as they seek to develop their own standards for protection of the public health.
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Citation:Graham, J. A., L. J. Folinsbee, J. M. Davis, J. Raub, and L. D. Grant. Critical Health Issues of Criteria Air Pollutants.Donald E. Gardner, Ph.D., James D. Crapo, M.D., and Roger O. McClellan, D.V.M. (ed.), Toxicology of the Lung, 3, Chapter13. Taylor & Francis, Inc., Philadelphia, PA, (1999).
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Contact: Mary P. O'Bryant - (919)-541-4871 or obriant.mary@epa.gov
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Division: Office of the Director
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Branch: NERL-Immediate Office
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Product Type: Book Chaptr
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Published: 02/25/1999
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Last Updated on Monday, October 22, 2007
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