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Air Toxics Reduction

Information provided for informational purposes onlyNote: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.
What is Being Done About Air Toxics?

Over the past decade, EPA and our regulatory partners at the State and local level have taken significant steps to dramatically reduce toxic air pollutants and provide important health protections for Americans nationwide. These steps include: reducing toxic emissions from industrial sources; reducing emissions from vehicles and engines through new stringent emission standards and cleaner burning gasoline; and addressing indoor air pollution though voluntary programs. See further details below about reductions from:

Industrial Source Programs

EPA has issued 96 air toxics regulations impacting over 174 categories of major industrial sources including chemical plants, oil refineries, aerospace manufacturers, and steel mills. The requirements in a number of these regulations take effect between 1999 and 2005. When fully implemented, these standards are projected to reduce annual air toxics emissions by about 1.7 million tons.

In addition, in March 2005, EPA issued the final Clean Air Mercury Rule to significantly reduce mercury emission from coal-fired power plants, which represents the first time the Federal government has regulated mercury emissions from these sources. In a related action, in March 2005, EPA also issued the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), a rule that will permanently cap emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the eastern United States. When fully implemented, these rules will reduce utility emissions of mercury from 48 tons a year to 15 tons, a reduction of nearly 70 percent. The combination of these two programs (referred to as a cobenefits approach) allows for an effective and economically efficient mechanism to regulating NOx, SO2 and mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

EPA has also completed 15 area source standards, and we are working on developing standards for an additional 28 area source categories. Once completed, these standards will address well over 90 percent of the 1990 baseline toxicity-weighted emissions from area sources.

EPA's area source program includes a community support component because communities with disproportionate risks may be able to reduce some toxic sources more quickly and effectively through local initiatives rather than through national regulations. For several years, we have provided funding and support in the way of tools, expertise and training to communities and Tribes to address their unique air toxics issues. The national-scale assessment is one such tool that communities often use as a component of a local air toxics evaluation to determine potential pollutants and sources for investigation.

Learn more about EPA's regulation of air toxics from industrial sources and EPA's area source program.

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Mobile Source Programs

Many motor vehicle and fuel emission control programs of the past have reduced air toxics and will continue to provide significant emission reductions in the future. While many of these programs were put in place primarily to reduce ozone and particulate matter through volatile organic compound (VOC) and diesel PM controls, and thereby to help states and localities come into attainment with the national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS), they have reduced and will continue to reduce emissions of air toxics very significantly.

EPA estimates that existing programs will result in over an 80 percent reduction in emissions of gaseous air toxics from highway mobile sources between 1990 and 2030 (see Figure 1. (PDF 1 p., 17 KB)), despite large increases in vehicle miles traveled. By 2020, EPA expects to see on-highway diesel PM emission reductions of 94 percent from 1990 levels. The highway mobile source programs include fuel programs such as the lead phaseout, reformulated gasoline (RFG) and anti-dumping standards, gasoline toxics emissions performance standards as required by the 2001 mobile source air toxics rule, and low-sulfur gasoline and diesel requirements. Vehicle programs include our national low emission vehicle (NLEV) program; our Tier 2 motor vehicle emissions standards and gasoline sulfur control requirements; inspection and maintenance programs, on-board diagnostics, and our heavy-duty engine and vehicle standards.

EPA's most recent program to reduce air toxics emissions is the Clean Air Nonroad Diesel Rule. As a result of this rule and other nonroad standards, nonroad diesel PM emissions in 2020 will be reduced by over 85% from year 2000 levels. EPA estimates that gaseous air toxics emissions from nonroad equipment will be reduced over 50% between 1990 and 2030, despite significant increases in activity (see Figure 2. (PDF 1 p.,11 KB)). EPA is also assisting states, communities and citizens in identifying and implementing voluntary programs, such as diesel retrofits and Clean School Bus USA to achieve additional reductions.

EPA has several additional air toxics reduction programs in development, including a new mobile source air toxics rule and additional emissions control for small spark ignition engines, recreational marine engines, locomotives and commercial marine vessels.

Learn more about EPA's programs to reduce air toxics from mobile sources.

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Indoor Air Programs

EPA also has promoted programs that have reduced indoor air toxics. For example, close to two million homes have been built with radon resistant construction or fixed to reduce radon levels. Approximately 25,000 schools have implemented effective indoor air quality management plans, reducing children's exposure to pollutants; and health care providers, parents and caregivers are taking action to reduce children's exposure to secondhand smoke and other asthma triggers in the home. Learn more about about indoor air activities.

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