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Frequently Asked Questions

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Air Quality

How do I report an air pollution problem?

For Philadelphia, call 215-685-7580 during AMS office hours from 8 AM to 4:30 PM weekdays. All other times, call 311. By calling right away at the time of the problem, AMS will have a better chance of observing the problem directly and developing an appropriate and timely response.

What information should I report for air pollution problems?

The date, time, location, responsible party (if known) and a description of the problem is requested. A callback name and telephone number is helpful in the event that we are unable to identify the problem. Anonymous calls are also accepted.

Does the City of Philadelphia have regulations to control the hazards of asbestos?

Yes, the city has comprehensive regulations to control asbestos. Projects involving abatement of friable asbestos must meet the requirements of the Asbestos Control Regulations.

What do I do if there's carbon monoxide in my house?

Seek fresh air and contact 9-1-1 for rescue if someone is unconscious or needs help. Otherwise, contact 311. The operator will assist in contacting AMS and other responders as needed.

Is an air permit required for my facility?

An Air Management Services Permit is required prior to the construction, installation, alteration, or replacement of any equipment or device causing the emission of air contaminants or the elimination, reduction or control of the emission of air contaminants.

A permit is not required for minor repairs which do not materially alter the quality or character of air emissions nor is the permit requirement applicable to any household appliance; any structure used exclusively as a one or two family dwelling; any motor vehicle or other equipment used on the highway; or fuel burning equipment with rated capacity of 250,000 BTU or less per hour. For questions or assistance, please call 215-685-7572.

How was Philadelphia's air quality in 2010?

In 2010, Philadelphia's air quality was rated "good" on 227 days, "moderate" on 118 days, and "unhealthy" on 20 days. These ratings are based on the Air Quality Index (AQI), a system used by cities throughout the country to describe the quality of the air. Air Management Services (AMS) monitors the air quality and enforces the air pollution regulations in the city.

Has the air quality in Philadelphia been improving over the years?

Overall Philadelphia's air quality is good and improving. Since 1979, while fluctuating from year to year, the trend of unhealthy and very unhealthy days has steadily declined especially since 1988. In 1999, the national standard for 8-hour ozone was incorporated into the AQI, and in 2004, the national PM2.5 standard was added. In 2008, the 8-hour ozone standard became more stringent. Because these are more stringent standards, some days that in prior years would have been reported as good fell into the moderate range. This does not reflect a deterioration in air quality.

Where and how is air quality measured?

The city's air is sampled at stations scattered throughout Philadelphia. Every minute, monitoring instruments at these stations send information on current air quality to the department's computer system at the AMS Laboratory located at 1501 E. Lycoming Street. This is called a "real time" system, because the measurements show pollution levels as they are occurring, not after the fact. It allows AMS to evaluate air quality almost continuously. This constant monitoring ensures that no episodes of high pollution are missed and that there are no pollution risks to the public's health. Check out the latest Air Monitoring Network Plan for Philadelphia.

How do I find out more about the air quality in Philadelphia?

The Air Quality Index (AQI) tells you how clean the air is and whether it will affect your health. To obtain general air quality information for Philadelphia or to arrange for a school or group based presentation, a speaker or information booth for a health or environmental fair, contact Air Management Services at 215-685-7586. Also, check out the latest Air Quality Report for Philadelphia.

What is a criteria pollutant?

A criteria pollutant is one of the six pollutants that are regulated under standards provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect the public health and welfare. The criteria pollutants are: ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and lead.

What does nonattainment mean?

Nonattainment refers to a violation of the ambient air quality standards set for a criteria pollutant. The final designation for nonattainment is given by the EPA after it reviews the recommendations of the State's governor and looks at air quality data for an area. A designation of nonattainment obligates the state or local air agency to identify the causes of pollution, and create and implement a strategy that will improve air quality to the point that it meets the standard.

What is an air toxic?

Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs), commonly referred to as air toxics or toxic air pollutants, are substances in the air that cause adverse health effects or environmental damage at sufficient concentrations and exposure. The Federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 list 187 pollutants or chemical groups as HAPs. HAPs that are of greatest concern are those that are released to the air to create a risk to human health.

Why is the ozone layer in the atmosphere considered good, and ozone at ground level considered a health risk?

High in the atmosphere, ozone provides a protective covering for the earth from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays, which are harmful. However, ozone low to the ground is formed when certain chemicals and sunlight interact, and is the chief ingredient in smog. It is a strong irritant to the upper respiratory system and eyes, and can cause damage to crops.

What should I do if there is unhealthy air quality?

Consider limiting strenuous activity outdoors, especially if you are a member of a sensitive group (the elderly, children, and those with heart or lung problems). Limit the use of your car during daylight hours, and avoid using lawn or garden equipment that requires gasoline.

How can I make a difference?

In the course of our daily activities, each of us can do some small things that will improve our air quality. Many things that we take for granted have an impact on our air and on our health, including activities such as driving, lawn mowing, house painting, barbecuing and even polishing fingernails. Motor vehicle exhaust creates one-third to one-half of all of the ozone-forming pollution found in the world today. If you want to make a significant impact on the environment, here are some tips on maintaining and driving your car for maximum pollution control.

  • Keep your car's engine tuned up. It will run better and emit less pollution.
  • Use a car or vanpool, mass transit, bicycle, or walk whenever you can.
  • When you do need to drive, plan ahead so you don't make extra trips.
  • Try to park in a central spot so you can walk to each of your errands.
  • Stay within the speed limit - cars emit less pollution at 55 mph than at higher speeds.
  • Lower the thermostat in winter and raise it in summer.
  • Use fuel efficient vehicles.
  • Use electric mowers, blowers and trimmers instead of gas.
  • Do not top off the gas tank.

For further questions, check out these External Links and Numbers or Contact AMS.