|New Mexico has some of the most beautiful skies on our planet, thanks in part to our good air quality. Plants, animals, and humans all rely on having clean air to breath. Protecting the quality of that air for a healthy environment, and alerting citizens to dangerous conditions play a critical role at NMED.
The affect of air pollutants on our health and ecosystems depends on the type of pollutant, how much is in the air, the amount of time exposed, and current health.
Air pollutants can also indirectly affect our health. Air pollutants deposited in lakes or rivers affect the quality of the water we drink and pollutants deposited on land or water enter the food chain and bio-accumulate in food we eat.
Some of the challenges to air quality in our state come from natural occurrences such as smoke from wildfires and dust storms. Others are brought about from human activities such as emissions from transportation, industry, and energy production.
NMED has developed programs around these and other air quality issues and works with communities, businesses, and other stakeholder groups to prevent the deterioration of air quality.
- Ambient Air Quality Standards
The federal and state agencies set air quality standards for outdoor air. The purpose of these standards is to prevent air pollution from reaching levels that harm public health and welfare.
National Ambient Air Quality Standards
The Clean Air Act of 1970 identified six common air pollutants of concern called “criteria pollutants” (listed in tabs below). The EPA created air quality standards called the “National Ambient Air Quality Standards” (NAAQS) for these six pollutants. These are the only air pollutants with national air quality standards that define allowable concentrations of these substances in ambient air.
State Ambient Air Quality Standards
There are both national and state standards for most criteria pollutants. States and local clean air agencies may set standards at different levels than the federal levels for their areas. However, state and local standards must be at least as protective as the federal standards.
Determining if Air Quality Meets National Ambient Air Quality Standards
State air quality agencies and the EPA determine if geographical areas within a state is meeting or exceeding the NAAQS based on ambient air quality monitoring.
- Attainment = an area that is at or below the standards
- Nonattainment= an area that is above the standards
New Mexico has been delegated authority by EPA to issue air quality permits and enforce air quality regulations. With such authority, we are required to develop a State Implementation Plan (SIP) to demonstrate how we will achieve, maintain, and enforce the ambient air quality standards.
Planning programs at NMED include:
Technical Analysis and Dispersion Modeling – performs and reviews air dispersion modeling for regulated facilities, performs modeling for regulatory development and enforcement, regional air shed planning, smoke management,and emissions inventory for Title V sources, greenhouse gases, and the sulfur dioxide trading program for regional haze.
Control Strategies – develops air pollution control strategies for air quality issues and prepares and revises: regulations, plans, general permits, guidance documents, and special projects in accordance with federal directives, State Implementation Plan (SIP) requirements, and state initiatives. More details…
Small Business Environmental Assistance Program – (SBEAP) assists small businesses with air quality permitting and compliance issues, and develops and distributes outreach materials to industry sectors within the state. More details…
- Projects & Topics
||Helping to reduce diesel emissions through the NM Clean Diesel Program
||Information on windblown dust issues in NM
||Ozone information, issues, and monitoring
||Proposed Revisions to New Mexico State Implementation Plans for Regional Haze
|San Juan County – Ozone issues
||Information from work groups and initiatives.
|Sunland Park, Doña Ana County
||Nonattainment and ozone maintenance plans.
||Information and links relating to smoke from wildfires (health & fire incident links)
NMED air Quality Bureau operates a network of ambient (outdoor) air monitors that continually sample the air across New Mexico, except for Bernalillo County and tribal lands.
NMED Air Monitoring web site provides: photos of the sites, information about what pollutants we monitor and their potential health effects, site data, customizable reports, and maps and links to other sources of air monitoring data and information.
Monitoring stations focus on:
The Department of Energy (DOE) Oversight Bureau
- Ensures that activities at DOE facilities (LANL, SNL, WIPP) in New Mexico are managed and controlled in a manner that is protective of public health and safety and the environment.
- Monitors all media (soil, vegetation, stormwater, precipitation, groundwater, surface water, air, etc.) for known, suspected or emerging contaminants of concern. Focus: potential contaminant levels of heavy metals, organic and inorganic compounds, and radionuclides.
See tabs below for more details about these and other air pollutants.
More MONITORING at NMED…
- Permitting – General Regulatory Information
Congress established the New Source Review (NSR) permitting program as part of the 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments.
New Source Review (NSR) requires stationary sources of air pollution to get permits before they start construction. Learn more…[Exit to EPA]
- Also referred to as “construction permitting” or “pre-construction permitting”.
- Ensures air quality is not significantly degraded from the addition of new and modified factories, industrial boilers and power plants.
There are three types of NSR permitting requirements:
“Major Source”= Under the Clean Air Act, a stationary source that emits:
- > 100 tons / year of any air pollutant (“default value”)
- > 10 tons / year of a single hazardous air pollutant (HAP) or >25 tons /year of all HAPs.
One of the major initiatives Congress added to the Clean Air Act in 1990 is an operating permit program for larger industrial and commercial sources.
Title V Operating Permits (TV) include information on which pollutants are being released, how much may be released, and what kinds of steps the source’s owner or operator is required to take to reduce the pollution. Permits must include plans to measure and report the air pollution emitted. Learn more…[Exit to EPA]
- Major sources that have a potential to emit more than 100 tons per year for criteria pollutants.
- Landfills greater than 2.5 million cubic meters (2.5 million-mg).
- Facilities that have the potential to emit greater than ten tons per year of a single Hazardous Air Pollutant, or 25 tons per year of any combination of Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP).
- New Mexico Air Permits
Air Quality Bureau Minor Source Section:
- NSR Minor Source Construction Permits
- Minor Source Streamline Permits (industry specific)
- Notice of Intent (NOI) – Facilities that emit less pollutants than cited above still need to report their emissions to the Department if the facility emits more than 10 tons per year of any criteria pollutant. These facilities must be issued a Notice of Intent (NOI) prior to construction.
Minor Source Section Manager: Liz Bisbey-Kuehn, 505-476-4338
Air Quality Bureau Major Source Program:
- Major Source Title V (TV) Operating Permits
- Major Source Prevention of Significant Deterioration Permits
Major Source Program Manager: Robert Samaniego , 505-476-4360
Air Quality Bureau Technical Services Section:
General Construction Permits – Industry specific to be used in place of one of the above NSR permits.
- GCP-1 or a GCP-4 permits for compressor stations
- GCP-2 permit for screens & rock crushers
- GCP-3 permit for asphalt plants or a
- GCP-5 permit for concrete batch plants
Technical Services Section Manager: Kerry Carr , 505-476-4339
The 6 Common Air Pollutants (“criteria pollutants”) as identified by the Clean Air Act
Ground level ozone is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight.
Emissions from industrial facilities and electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents are some of the major sources of NOx and VOC.
Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. Ground level ozone also can reduce lung function and inflame the linings of the lungs.
Ground level ozone can have harmful effects on sensitive vegetation and ecosystems. Plant species that are sensitive to ozone and potentially at an increased risk from exposure include trees such as black cherry, quaking aspen, ponderosa pine and cottonwood.
“Particulate matter,” also known as particle pollution or PM, is a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. Particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles.
The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. EPA is concerned about particles that are 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller because those are the particles that generally pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas emitted from combustion processes. Nationally and, particularly in urban areas, the majority of CO emissions to ambient air come from mobile sources. CO can cause harmful health effects by reducing oxygen delivery to the body’s organs (like the heart and brain) and tissues.
Sources of carbon monoxide include:
- Automobile emissions. (High levels are possible near large parking lots, traffic jams, or crowded city streets, where large numbers of slow-moving cars accumulate.)
- Home/building heating.
- Volcanoes, thunderstorms and forest fires.
- Vegetation during various growth stages.
- The chemical transformation of methane, a gas emitted from decaying plants in swamps and marshlands.
Carbon monoxide from natural sources usually dissipates quickly over a large area, posing no threat to human health.
Nitrogen gas, normally relatively inert (unreactive), comprises about 80% of the air. At high temperatures and under certain other conditions it can combine with oxygen in the air, forming several different gaseous compounds collectively called oxides of nitrogen (NOx).
Nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2 – the criteria pollutant) are the two most important. EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standard uses NO2 as the indicator for the larger group of nitrogen oxides.
Major sources of nitrogen oxides include:
- Fuel combustion in power plants and automobiles.
- Processes used in chemical plants.
In addition to contributing to the formation of ground-level ozone, and fine particle pollution, NO2 is linked with a number of adverse effects on the respiratory system.
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is one of a group of highly reactive gasses known as “oxides of sulfur.”
Major sources of SO2 emissions are fossil fuel combustion at power plants (73%) and other industrial facilities (20%).
Smaller sources of SO2 emissions include industrial processes such as extracting metal from ore, and the burning of high sulfur containing fuels by locomotives, large ships, and non-road equipment.
Sulfur dioxide not only has a bad odor, it can irritate the respiratory system and is linked with a number of adverse effects on the respiratory system. Exposure to high concentrations for short periods of time can constrict the bronchi and increase mucous flow, making breathing difficult.
Lead (Pb) is a metal found naturally in the environment as well as in manufactured products.
The major sources of lead emissions have historically been from fuels in on-road motor vehicles (such as cars and trucks) and industrial sources. As a result of EPA’s regulatory efforts to remove lead from on-road motor vehicle gasoline, emissions of lead from the transportation sector dramatically declined by 95 percent between 1980 and 1999, and levels of lead in the air decreased by 94 percent between 1980 and 1999.
Today, the highest levels of lead in air are usually found near lead smelters. The major sources of lead emissions to the air today are ore and metals processing and piston-engine aircraft operating on leaded aviation gasoline.