Health Effects of Air Pollution

This page last reviewed April 22, 2010

child with nazal inhaler


Air pollution continues to be an important public health concern. A  number of air pollutants, coming out of a variety of industrial processes, impact the health of California residents. Air monitoring shows that over 90 percent of Californians breathe unhealthy levels of one or more air pollutants during some part of the year. The California Air Resources Board (ARB) establishes health-based ambient air quality standards to identify outdoor pollutant levels that are considered safe for the public - including those individuals most sensitive to the effects of air pollution, such as children and the elderly.

The ARB has set standards for eight "traditional" pollutants, such as ozone and particulate matter. In addition to setting standards, the ARB identifies other air pollutants as toxic air contaminants (TACs) - pollutants that may cause serious, long-term effects, such as cancer, even at low levels. Most air toxics have no known safe levels, and some may accumulate in the body from repeated exposures. The Board has identified about 200 pollutants as air toxics, and measures continue to be adopted to reduce emissions of air toxics. Both traditional pollutants and toxic air contaminants are measured statewide to assess programs for cleaning the air. The ARB works with local air pollution control districts to reduce air pollution from all sources.