Keywords: air contamination, combinatorial interactions
Methodologies for incorporation of synergistic effects in the calculation of the Pollutant Standards Index
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in order to provide the public with an overall assessment of daily air quality. PSI values are determined from measured concentrations of five criteria air pollutants carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter (PM-10). In general, the PSI can be considered a useful tool in the assessment of air quality as it relates to health effects. However, the current method of PSI calculation is subject to certain inherent limitations. These limitations include the fact that the PSI neglects the role of synergism between the individual pollutants in affecting air quality and health. It is very likely that the combination of certain pollutants is more harmful than each acting individually. Since the general population is exposed to more than one of the criteria pollutants at a given time, revising the current PSI methodology to account for such synergism would be useful and helpful to the public. In the current work, two methodologies for synergistic PSI calculation have been evaluated. The first option (Option 1) is dominated by the principle of threshold levels. When further research determines more accurate levels, the methodology may be of value for future synergistic PSI evaluations. The second option (Option 2) is an attempt to incorporate the correlation of pollutant concentrations with health effects (as determined by increased hospital admissions) into the synergism evaluation. The underlying philosophy of this methodology holds the most promise for accurate synergistic PSI calculation. Comprehensive research and experimentation would be beneficial in creating a more accurate PSI function equation. The main advantage of these hypothetical methodologies is that the current PSI method would still be valid for initial PSI calculation. The dissimilarity is in the calculation of the critical (i.e. reportable) PSI value. It is no longer a matter of the highest PSI value among the pollutants being an accurate representative of air quality. Instead, each of the PSI values obtained is applied to a separate equation to determine a synergistic PSI. When above-average pollutant concentrations are recorded, the possibility of synergistic behavior increases and would be demonstrated with the application of both options. The advantage of Option 1 (versus Option 2) is that the equation was derived from a recognized approach to synergism in combination with the ideas of threshold levels. The advantage of Option 2 is that it is an attempt to correlate concentration levels with health effects observed in the health industry. It is possible that a combination of both philosophies will eventually lead to the development of a synergistic PSI methodology worthy of approval by the EPA.