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Protecting Your Health

Air Toxics & Your Health

Air toxics are compounds in the air that have the potential to harm our health. People exposed to air toxics at higher concentrations over time may have an increased chance of getting cancer or experiencing other serious health effects. 

Health effects can include:

  • Damage to the immune system,
  • Neurological,
  • Reproductive (e.g., reduced fertility),
  • Developmental,
  • Respiratory,
  • And more…

Exposure to Air Toxics

People can be exposed to air toxics by various means. Air toxics can come from cars, trucks and other mobile sources, stationary sources (business and industry sources) and indoor sources (e.g., paints and solvents), and natural sources of air toxics like volcanoes and wildfires.

Here are some examples of how you can be exposed:

  • Breathing contaminated air;
  • Eating contaminated foods, such as fish from contaminated waters; meat, milk, or eggs from animals that fed on contaminated plants and fruits and vegetables grown in contaminated soil;
  • Drinking contaminated water;
  • Ingesting contaminated soil. Young children are especially vulnerable because they can ingest soil from their hands or from objects they place in their mouths;
  • Making skin contact with contaminated soil, dust, or water. 

Examples of air toxics & where they can be found are as follows:

  • Diesel exhaust particulate matter – engine exhaust from diesel pumps, generators, cars & trucks;
  • Benzene – in gasoline and solvents, used in manufacturing;
  • Asbestos – in older building materials and insulation, also found in naturally occurring asbestos in serpentine rock;
  • Dioxin – formerly in herbicides and is a product of combustion from chlorinated compounds;
  • Toluene – in gasoline, solvents, adhesives, paints, coatings and other consumer products;
  • Formaldehyde – preservatives, off gas from particle board and furniture as well as consumer products and fuel combustion;
  • Cadmium – found in batteries, electronics and pigments;
  • Mercury – found in dental amalgam fillings, instruments and traces can be found in food;
  • Chromium – in metal and plastic plating, protective coatings, manufacture and cutting of stainless steel; and,
  • Lead compounds – found in batteries, paint, shielding and solder.

How Do We Evaluate Risk?

We evaluate risk through development of a health risk assessment. A health risk assessment is a report that estimates the possibility of adverse health effects from emissions of toxic compounds in the air. Risk assessment is the process of estimating risk. In addition to looking at the amount and toxicity of the substance being released, risk assessments also look at other factors including:

  • Weather conditions,
  • Distance from the source of substance to people,
  • The age, health and lifestyle of people living or working near the source of substance,
  • And the amount of time people may be exposed to the toxic substance.

It is important to note that numbers provided by health risk assessments (known as HRAs) do not refer to actual cases of health problems that will occur from exposure to air toxics. The risk assessments are computer calculations, a tool to estimate, identify and reduce possible negative health effects.

We also evaluate risk through our permitting process and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) land use review. 

Local Efforts to Reduce Risk

The APCD has been successful in reducing levels of criteria and toxic air pollutants from existing sources while limiting impacts from new and modified sources within SLO County by integrating federal and state air toxics mandates. Current rules and policies continue to control and reduce toxic impacts, however, additional efforts are needed to protect the health and welfare of the public.

The APCD has several Rules in place that work to limit risk and exposure. For more information on our rules visit SLO's Rules & Regulations page. Specifically the following rules: 

  • Rule 218 – Federal Requirements for Hazardous Air Pollutants
  • Rule 219 – Toxics New Source Review
  • Rule 308 – Fees for Air Toxics “Hot Spots” Program
  • Rule 412 – Airborne Toxic Control Measures
  • Rule 418 – Asbestos Containing Serpentine
  • Rule 701 – National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants. 

APCD also evaluates health risk through our land use planning efforts, and projects subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Screening level health risk assessments may be required for proposed projects as part of the CEQA review process. To find out more, visit our CEQA & Land Use Page

The California Air Resources Board has also developed a brochure that discusses several of the advancements and steps made to reduce risk from the public throughout the state. Click here to read more!

Air Toxics “Hot Spots” Program

The Air Toxics "Hot Spots" Information and Assessment Act (AB2588) is a state law requiring facilities to report emissions of toxic air contaminants to the APCD. The program is designed to quantify the amounts of potentially hazardous air pollutants released, the location of the release, the concentrations to which the public is exposed, and the resulting potential public health risk. In addition, it requires significant public health risks to be reduced.

What You Can Do To Reduce Your Risk & Protect Your Health

Motor vehicles contribute significantly to air toxics in the environment. We can all help to reduce toxics by driving less and limiting our trips made by car. Try out public transportation, carpooling, walking or biking or telecommuting!

As consumers, you can also choose products that emit fewer Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) compounds, which are often air toxics. Many paints and other products are now available in low toxicity formulations. See the California Air Resources Board’s consumer products page for more information. http://www.arb.ca.gov/consprod/consprod.htm

You can also limit your exposure to tobacco smoke.