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How the EPA Measures Air Emissions

The United States Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for identifying, monitoring, and codifying our usage of and interaction with the earth’s natural resources. They create and enforce the laws surrounding our air, water, minerals, and waste disposal. Their job is to ensure a safe and healthy environment for the people of the United States. Without these laws and regulations in place, there would be no objective standard by which to measure our environmental impact, and we might end up causing damage to the world we live in.

Air pollution is just one of the primary concerns that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must keep an eye on. Factories, processing plants, and motor vehicles discharge their exhaust fumes into the air, potentially releasing airborne chemicals and pollutants that could have long-term effects on the health and safety of the environment. So, how does the EPA measure air emissions to monitor compliance and enforce the laws they’ve set in place?

The EPA itself has defined two distinct types of data collection when it comes to monitoring air pollutants: ambient and stationary. Ambient air quality monitoring refers to the collection of data on a large scale. This provides information on the general quality of the atmosphere as a whole. Stationary source emissions monitoring, on the other hand, identifies and monitors the emissions of particular sources; think factory smokestacks or processing plant vents. This pinpoints any problems that need to be resolved without having to constantly audit everyone all the time.

Fortunately, most EPA air monitoring is done automatically via high-tech sensors and instruments. For example, the continuous emission monitoring systems (CEMS) analyzes and measures the pollutants themselves to ensure they are within certain parameters. Similarly, the continuous opacity measuring systems (COMS) detects and measures the amount of light that reaches its sensors. Opacity (the total percentage of light allowed to filter through) can be a very helpful indicator when it comes to the level of pollutants released into the atmosphere. These devices automate the task of monitoring and alerting the EPA to any issues that need to be corrected. With technology like this, we can rest assured that the Environmental Protection Agency is being proactive in preventing any harm to our environment and the atmosphere. Follow the IES Neptune blog to learn more about how the EPA regulates our environmental resources, or find the previous entries on our website!