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Managing Air Quality - Human Health, Environmental and Economic Assessments

Human health and environmental assessments are included as part of an air quality management program to characterize the human health and environmental risks associated with exposure to pollution. Typically, these assessments evaluate:

  • the impact of existing levels of pollution; and/or
  • the estimated beneficial impact of a policy or program to reduce emissions and improve the air quality.

Economic assessments are used to evaluate the cost and the economic impact of a policy or regulation related to air quality management. They can also be used to estimate the economic value of the benefits of an air pollution policy or program.

Taken together, these assessments can help identify air quality management policies needed to address the risks that have been identified, as well as to focus on the most cost effective ones.

On this page:

What is the Impact of Air Pollution on Human Health and the Environment?

Determining how various pollutants may impact human health and the environment requires information from a range of disciplines, such as toxicology and epidemiology.

Short- and/or long-term exposure to air pollution has been associated with a wide range of human health effects including increased respiratory symptoms, hospitalization for heart or lung diseases, and even premature death. Hazardous (or toxic) air pollutants may cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as reproductive effects or birth defects.

Specific groups within the general population may have a greater risk of pollution effects due to a variety of factors. For example, children often are more vulnerable to pollutants. Learn more about protecting children's environmental health.

EPA's goal is to provide an environment where all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income enjoy the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to maintain a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work, through implementing Environmental Justice.

Environmental (or welfare) effects include effects on:

  • soils and water
  • crops and other vegetation
  • man-made materials (such as buildings and cars)
  • animals and other wildlife
  • visibility
  • climate

Information on health and environmental effects is also summarized in assessment documents including:

How are Human Health, Environmental and Economic Assessments Developed?

Human Health and Environmental Assessments: Risk assessment is the scientific process of evaluating the potential for adverse health or ecological impacts resulting from exposure to an environmental stress, such as air pollutants. Extensive information regarding both human health and ecological risk assessments, including basic information and guidelines for conducting assessments can be found at EPA's website on Risk Assessment.

EPA develops risk and exposure documents as part of the process in developing national ambient air quality standards for the common (or criteria) pollutants, including particulate matter and ozone. The risk and exposure assessment describes the nature of human health, ecological and welfare impacts associated with each pollutant. Risk assessments for each of the six criteria pollutants are included in the scientific and technical documents supporting reviews of the criteria air pollutants.

Tools that can assist with the evaluation of health risk and environmental effects associated with exposure to the criteria pollutants  and also to toxic air pollutants can be found at EPA's website on Fate, Exposure, and Risk Analysis.

Health Benefits and Economic Value: The results of risk assessments can be used as part of an assessment of the economic benefits from reducing emissions. The Environmental Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program (BenMAP) is a tool for estimating health impacts, and the associated economic values, resulting from changes in ambient air pollution.

Economic Analysis: Guidelines for Preparing Economic Analyses establish a sound scientific framework for performing economic analyses of environmental regulations and policies.

Economic and regulatory impact analyses conducted by EPA for many air pollution rules, as well as guidance and tools for cost, benefit and economic analyses for air pollution rules can be found at  Economic and Cost Analysis for Air Pollution Regulations.