Evaluating the health significance of hazardous air pollutants using monitoring data

Public Health Rep. 2001 Jan-Feb;116(1):32-44. doi: 10.1093/phr/116.1.32.


Objective: Though many contaminants are released into the atmosphere, in the US only six air pollutants-ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and lead-are closely monitored and carefully assessed for health significance. Other pollutants, even if highly toxic, are neither widely monitored nor routinely assessed at the national level. The goal of this study was to analyze the availability of information needed to characterize the health significance of hazardous air pollutants, focusing on urban areas in California.

Methods: The authors compared different approaches to identifying which contaminants should be considered hazardous air pollutants of potential health concern; reviewed the availability of toxicity values for these pollutants; and analyzed the usefulness of air monitoring data from California agencies for determining populations risks, by comparing method detection limits with health benchmarks.

Results: Approaches to identifying air contaminants of possible health concern differ. Toxicity values are not available for many hazardous air pollutants, including those identified in the Clean Air Act. In California, monitoring data are available for many, though not all, pollutants of concern. Monitoring methods for several pollutants do not have adequate sensitivity to detect all relevant concentrations.

Conclusion: The information necessary to fully assess the health significance of hazardous air pollutants is not currently available.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollution / analysis*
  • Air Pollution / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Air Pollution / statistics & numerical data
  • Benchmarking
  • California
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Environmental Health*
  • Environmental Monitoring / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Environmental Monitoring / standards*
  • Environmental Monitoring / statistics & numerical data
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Models, Statistical
  • Needs Assessment
  • Public Health
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • United States
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency
  • Urban Health / statistics & numerical data*


  • Air Pollutants