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Step outside—what do you see all around you? What do you feel? Now, take a deep breath. Ah! Air. Does it smell clean? The cleaner the air we breathe, the healthier we are. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works to ensure that our air is free of harmful pollutants. It monitors air quality, sets standards for clean air, and works with state and local agencies to enforce these federal standards. But who is responsible for cleaning air pollution when the breeze carries it across state lines? That question was at the heart of a court case that reached the Supreme Court.
The court case, Environmental Protection Agency v. Eme Homer City Generation, LP, pitted the EPA against the Texas District Attorney and Texas’ biggest power producer. The Texans objected to the EPA rule that held them responsible for air pollution created in Texas that drifted downwind into neighboring states. Last week, the Supreme Court decided that the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution rule is legal. (Coincidentally, the decision came during Air Quality Awareness Week.) The Rule, a part of the EPA’s Good Neighbor Provision of the Clean Air Act, tries to limit air pollution in 28 Midwestern and Eastern states in order to protect air quality in their neighboring states downwind. If you are interested, you may read the Supreme Court ruling.
Air pollution is complicated. Air pollution is created by many manmade sources: vehicles, lawn mowers, furnaces and wood burning fireplaces, paints, cleaning products, carpets, and cigarettes. But dirt and dust are also found in air pollution. And natural forces like wind control where it travels. Air pollution is often invisible and we breathe it without realizing it. Yet, there are long-term health effects associated with many of the most common air pollutants.
This week, learn more about the Clean Air Act, what’s in the air you breathe, common pollutants, and how you can help clean the air.
Protecting Clean Air—
The Clean Air Act authorizes the EPA to protect Americans from harmful air pollutants by regulating and enforcing pollution standards. Read a brief history of the Clean Air Act, and then scroll down to read how the EPA, state and local agencies, and tribal nations collaborate to enforce the Clean Air Act.
At the heart of the latest court case was the Clean Air Act’s Good Neighbor Rule. The Good Neighbor Rule aims to reduce ozone and fine particle pollution and improve people’s health. Learn which states the Good Neighbor Rule focuses on and how it will work.
What’s in the Air you Breathe—
Air pollution comes from different places and is made of different substances. Read more about the types and sources of air pollution. Can you think of another example of each source?
The EPA monitors six pollutants: ozone, particle matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and lead. Ozone and fine particle pollution are commonly found in our air. Ozone pollution is very different than the ozone layer that protects us from much of the Sun’s radiation. Watch Good Up High, Bad Nearby to see the difference between ground-level ozone and the stratosphere’s ozone layer, and to discover the side effects of ground-level ozone. Watch how Ozone is Formed.
Do you ever watch tiny dust particles shimmer in rays of sunlight? Those are an example of particle pollution. Watch Particle Pollution and discover what creates particle pollution and why it can be harmful. Read Fast Facts about particle pollution.
To protect people from poor air quality, every day the EPA calculates the Air Quality Index—a measure of how clean or dirty the air is. Read more about how the AQI works. Check out today’s AQI measurement. Click on your home state to zoom in and see the AQI forecast for today and tomorrow. Click on the Current AQI tab to see the most recent AQI data for your state. Click on a city name in the right margin to see more detailed information for the pollutants monitored by the EPA.
Keep it Clean—
There are many things that contribute to air pollution. Play the interactive game Smog City 2 to see how different factors affect air quality. There are three versions of the game. In Save Smog City 2 from Ozone, try your hand at lowering ground-level ozone levels. Scroll the main menu bar down to read the two scenarios you are challenged to solve. You can also play Save Smog City 2 from Particle Pollution. This game presents two scenarios that ask you to reduce the particle pollutions levels. Answer the questions that follow the scenarios to show you understand the changes you made. You can also create your own scenarios.
Smog City 2 shows how human activity, industry, and Mother Nature affect air quality. Some of these are outside your personal control. But there are things you can do to keep the air cleaner. Which will you do?