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. These health effects can include:
Damage to the immune system
Reproductive (e.g., reduced fertility)
How Are You Exposed 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 (for example, paints and solvents), and natural sources of air toxics like volcanoes and wildfires. How exactly can you be exposed though? Here are some examples:
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:
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.
Local Efforts to Reduce Air Toxics
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.
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.
What Your Business Can Do To Reduce Your Risk
Air toxics are a subset of air pollution in general. Air toxic components are present in many volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (PM). VOCs and PM can come from many materials including paints, solvents and coatings, gasoline and other fuels or be a byproduct of fuel combustion. Engines, boilers or other equipment that burns fuel, power plants, refineries and other sources produce air pollution and toxic components. Mobile sources including trucks, cars, trains and construction equipment also burn fuel and produce toxic air contaminants. Many of the strategies that will reduce general air pollution will also reduce emissions of toxic air contaminants and resulting risk impacts.
Reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled for transportation and shipping;
Increase fuel efficiency;
Examine Safety Data Sheets for material used and try to choose less toxic alternatives;
Maintain good business practices – keep solvents in tightly sealed containers;
Store VOC and solvent-containing materials including clean-up materials and rags in closed containers, keep containers closed when not in use;
New! The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) recently revised its guidelines for assessing the risks from air toxics. The OEHHA Air Toxics Hot Spots Program Guidance Manual for Preparation of Health Risk Assessments (Guidance Manual) is designed to improve the way the State estimates potential lifetime health risks from toxic air contaminants. The Guidance Manual makes adjustments based on new science regarding exposures for people of all ages and provides methods for quantifying increased childhood sensitivity to air toxics. Over the past 10 years, scientific advances have shown that early-life exposures to air toxics contribute to an increased lifetime risk of developing cancer and other adverse health effects, compared to exposure in adulthood.