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  • Reducing-type air pollution, characterized by SO2 and smoke, is capable of producing deleterious human health effects.

  • Photochemical air pollution arises from a series of complex reactions in the troposphere close to the earth’s surface and comprises a mixture of ozone, nitric oxides, aldehydes, peroxyacetyl nitrates, and myriad reactive hydrocarbon radicals.

  • Indoor air can be even more complex than outdoor air, and outdoor air can permeate the indoor environment in spite of the reduced air exchange in buildings.

  • Sick-Building Syndrome may occur in new, poorly ventilated, or recently refurbished office buildings due to the outgasing of combustion products, volatile chemicals, biological materials and vapors, and emissions from furnishings.

*This chapter has been reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and approved for publication. Approval does not signify that the contents necessarily reflect the views and the policies of the Agency.


Unchecked human progress has led to air pollution catastrophes highlighting the profoundly detrimental impact that reckless prosperity has on the environment. Public outcry has resulted in governmental action to protect air quality and public health. While organically derived fuel is combusted to derive energy, its potential impact on air quality and on public health and the environment will remain. Though great strides have been made in balancing regulation and technology to reduce emissions from stationary and mobile sources, unsatisfactory air quality imposes a risk to public and environmental health throughout the world. Air pollutants can be transported across many miles such that previously pristine, rural areas have measurable pollution above their historic background levels.

Disparities in health across the globe are linked to poverty, access to clean food and water, as well as health care and education, autocratic governments, wars, and all that is associated with these population deficiencies and stressors. Air pollution—both indoor and outdoor—and the breathing of toxic inhalants is among the planet’s five top killers. Exposure to carbon and soot from combustion of biomass in cooking and heating in domestic stoves causes up to 8 million deaths per year, primarily in women who are exposed day in and day out over many years, often with their infant children by their sides. Understanding the intersection of technological, socioeconomic, and political challenges will be at the core of any resolution to these issues.

A Brief History of Air Pollution and its Regulation

For most of history, air pollution has been a problem of microenvironments and domestic congestion. The smoky fires of early cave and hut dwellers choked the air inside their homes, and even when the emissions were vented outdoors, they simply combined with those of the neighbors to settle around the village on damp cold nights. With urbanization and a concomitant decrease in forest wood as a source of fuel to heat and cook, the burning of easily ...

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