Meeting air quality standards requires a broad look at a company's operations as well as continual monitoring of emissions, pollution control plans and changes in air quality standards themselves.

Meeting Air Quality Standards During the Manufacturing Process

Emily Folk | Conservation Folks

Under current law, manufacturers have a responsibility to manage their emissions to meet air quality standards. Some companies also create their own air quality targets to improve their environmental performance. Here's a look at how industrial companies can go about meeting these standards.


Standards Affecting the Manufacturing Process

The main standard dealing with air quality in the U.S. is the Clean Air Act. Congress created the foundations of the CAA in 1970 and made significant revisions to the law in 1977 and 1990. The law requires the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the emission of pollutants that could impact public health. Under the CAA, state and local governments also enforce air quality standards. The EPA has created standards for six criteria pollutants:

  • Ozone
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Nitrogen dioxide
  • Lead
  • Particulate matter

Under the CAA, new factories and other stationary sources of pollution must use available technologies to reduce their emissions. The standards for existing facilities are less strict. The CAA also aims to minimize increases in pollution from the rising number of motor vehicles.

Since the CAA was enacted in 1970, emissions of the six criteria pollutants have decreased by 73 percent. Title II of the CAA, which deals with emissions from motor vehicles, resulted in lower levels of sulfur in fuels and contributed to the development of cleaner combustion engines.

The CAA deals mostly with outdoor air quality, but indoor air quality is another concern for manufacturers. While OSHA doesn't have standards specifically for indoor air quality, it does have rules regarding ventilation and some specific air contaminants. The General Duty Clause of OSHA requires employers to provide a safe workplace, which does include air quality. Two states, California and New Jersey, have indoor air quality standards.

In addition to compliance with regulations, improving indoor air quality can also help improve employee satisfaction and help workers be more productive. According to OSHA, poor indoor air quality can lead to trouble concentrating, fatigue, headaches and irritation of the throat, eyes, nose and lungs as well as potentially more severe health issues.


Developing an Air Quality Strategy

So how can manufacturers ensure that their processes are complying with air quality standards? The steps of this process may include the following:

  • Evaluating relevant standards: First, the manufacturer should be sure they have a complete understanding of what air quality standards apply to them and how those rules affect them. This step might also include any internal targets for indoor air quality and emissions reduction.

  • Identifying pollution sources: Next, the company will evaluate their processes and equipment to determine what its potential pollution sources are. Indoor air pollutants may include fumes from welding or harsh cleaning chemicals. Plants that run on fossil fuels, such as coal or diesel, contribute greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Outlining control measures: Once the manufacturer has identified how they produce pollutants, they can determine ways of reducing those pollutants. Prevention of pollution is one approach, which facilities can accomplish by switching to less toxic raw materials or fuels, replacing polluting industrial processes and improving efficiency so that less fuel and fewer materials are used. Facilities can also employ technologies that remove substances from the air after an industrial process has released them. These technologies include scrubbers, mechanical collectors, condensers and fabric filters.

  • Creating a pollution reduction plan: These manufacturers must then develop a plan for implementing the control measures. This plan will include the technical details of the strategies used, how they will be integrated into the company's existing processes and the expected outcomes. The strategy should also include how the company will monitor its emissions and evaluate the success of its pollution reduction plan.

  • Measuring progress: The next step of the process would be to implement the plan and track its progress. Monitoring air quality and emissions enables the manufacturers to determine if its efforts were successful and assists with environmental reporting. As the company monitors its progress, it can adjust the plan as needed to improve outcomes.


The Future of Air Quality Standards

Since the CAA was enacted, manufacturing, along with other sectors, has reduced its emissions. There are, however, still many more potential improvements that manufacturers can make. New pollution control technologies, new industrial processes and other innovations could potentially help reduce pollution further. Meeting air quality standards requires a broad look at a company's operations as well as continual monitoring of emissions, pollution control plans and changes in air quality standards themselves.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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