Air Liquide America Specialty Gases LLC

EPA Regulations Raise the Bar for Industrial Air Quality Testing

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Far-reaching environmental legislation continues to change the way Americans live, work, and run their businesses. For the past decade and a half, companies have worked toward meeting the latest air quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


In 2005, regulations introduced by the Clean Air Act of 1990 came into full effect with the goal of reducing harmful emissions by 57-billion pounds per year. The act continues to have a huge impact both economically and environmentally as it targets the sources of urban air pollution, acid rain, and stratospheric ozone depletion.


Air pollution is not a new problem in the United States. During the 1940s, a series of pollution-related disasters forced Americans to acknowledge the need for clean air standards. The worst of those incidents took place during a five day period in 1948, when smog caused by industrial emissions and coal-burning furnaces killed 20 people and sickened nearly 7,000 others in the small town of Donora, Pennsylvania.


The tragedy spurred the federal government to take control of air quality management. In 1955, the Air Pollution Control Act was introduced to mandate the national investigation of air pollution. More stringent air quality controls were later established with the creation of the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the formation of the EPA. In 1990, the Clean Air Act was revised to include the following amendments:

  • Title I – strengthens measures for attaining national air quality standards
  • Title II – sets forth provisions relating to mobile sources
  • Title III – expands the regulation of hazardous air pollutants
  • Title IV – requires substantial reductions in emissions for control of acid rain
  • Title V – establishes operating permits for all major sources of air pollution
  • Title VI – establishes provisions for stratospheric ozone protection
  • Title VII – expands enforcement powers and penalties.


The legislation not only provides the EPA with innovative regulatory procedures, but allows for a variety of supportive research and enforcement measures. Individuals may face fines up to $250,000 and imprisonment up to 15 years, with each day of violation counted as a separate offense. Businesses may face fines of up to $500,000 for each negligent violation and up to $1 million per day for knowing endangerment. Many corporations must apply for national operating permits because of the emissions released by their processes.


Current industrial air quality testing is driven by the latest amendments. A major focus for manufacturers under the new provisions can be found in Title III, which identifies and lists 189 HAPs (Hazardous Air Pollutants) to be reduced within a ten-year period. This is a tremendous increase since the EPA had previously established standards for only seven HAPs out of only eight listed. These pollutants can result in serious health effects, such as cancer, birth defects, immediate death, or catastrophic accidents.


Among the air pollutants the act pinpoints for monitoring are VOCs (volatile organic compounds). These chemicals are identified as organic because of the presence of carbon, but many are synthetically created. VOCs include gasoline, industrial chemicals such as benzene, solvents such as toluene and xylene, and tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene, the principal dry cleaning solvent). Many VOCs, such as benzene, are present on the HAP list because of the threat they pose to human health. These pollutants may cause death, disease, or birth defects in organisms that ingest or absorb them.


There are a variety of methods for the determination of TO (toxic organic) compounds in ambient air at parts-per-million (ppm) and parts-per-billion (ppb) concentration levels.  Following the EPA’s TO-14, TO-14A, or TO-15 Methods,  VOCs in air are collected in specially prepared canisters and analyzed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) instruments.


To test air quality using these methods, a sample of ambient air from a source must be drawn into a pre-evacuated specially prepared canister. After the sample is collected, the canister valve is closed, an identification tag is attached to the canister, a chain-of-custody (COC) form completed, and the canister is transported to a laboratory for analysis.


Upon receipt at the lab, the proper documentation is completed and the canister is attached to the analytical system. Water vapor is reduced in the gas stream by a dryer (if applicable), and the VOCs are then concentrated by collection in a cryogenically cooled trap. The refrigerant, typically liquid nitrogen or liquid argon, is then removed and the temperature of the trap is raised. The VOCs originally collected in the trap are revolatilized, separated on a GC column, and then run through one or more detectors to identify the components and concentrations in each sample. Findings are thoroughly documented in a written report which is presented to the client.


The qualitative and quantitative accuracy of these analyses is of the utmost importance. Difficulty arises in part because of the wide variety of TO substances and the lack of standardized sampling and analysis procedures.


To facilitate the improvement of laboratory air quality testing and analysis, one proactive company, Scott Specialty Gases, offers a cross-reference program for labs. Now laboratories can evaluate their own proficiency by comparing their results against Scott Specialty Gases’ as well as the blind results from other participating labs. By employing the highly accurate and stable gas mixtures manufactured by Scott Specialty Gases, laboratories can also calibrate their GC/MS instruments to achieve more precise readings of samples.


Chemical manufacturing plants, oil refineries, toxic waste sites or land fills, and solid waste incinerators are just a few of the many sources of hazardous air pollutants. The financial cost to install state-of-the-art controls is great.


Thanks to the services offered by companies like Scott Specialty Gases and to the more stringent requirements of the Clean Air Act of 1990, the environment is on the mend. The impact of industry compliance with the Clean Air Act of 1990 has been astounding. Careful testing has already shown a significant improvement in national air quality thanks to anti-pollution efforts. According to studies conducted by the Foundation for Clean Air Progress, exposure levels for ozone and particulates have decreased and four of the six most serious pollutants identified by the Clean Air Act of 1970 are no longer being released into the air at unhealthy levels. These improvements fly in the face of data that shows increased population growth and energy usage in the United States. Regulatory vigilance and technological advances in environmental monitoring have made cleaner air a reality.


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