Pollution Issues

Learn about the different types of pollution in your community and what you can do about them.

Air Pollution

Air pollution is a mixture of solid particles and gases in the air. Many activities pollute the air we breathe, including driving cars and trucks; burning coal, oil, and other fossil fuels; and even such everyday activities as dry cleaning, painting operations, and filling your car with gas.  When these gases and particles accumulate in the air in high enough concentrations, they can harm us and our environment. The Clean Air Act, first passed in 1970, was created to clean up air pollution and help protect the health of all Americans.

To learn more about your outdoor and indoor air quality, visit the links below. 

Outdoor Air Quality

  • Older adults, children, and people with health issues may be at risk when air quality is poor. Understanding the air quality index and using this map to check air quality in your area can help you take precautions.
  • If you are considering moving, use this map to compare air quality for different counties.

Indoor Air Quality

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Environmental Laws and Regulations

Protection of the environment is managed at the federal and state levels. 

Air Pollutants, Clean Water, and Safe Drinking Laws

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) addresses several issues, from setting limits on certain air pollutants to enforcing federal clean water and safe drinking laws. In addition, EPA enforces federal regulations to reduce the impact of businesses on the environment.

Wildlife Concerns

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was signed in 1973 to provide for the protection and conservation of threatened and endangered plants and animals as well as their habitats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service are responsible for administering the ESA:

Food Safety

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and EPA have a cooperative arrangement to carry out the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. The FDA has responsibility over the safety of food and any substance that is applied to the human body.   

Workplace Concerns

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a part of the U.S. Department of Labor, deals with problems with the environment inside the workplace. This includes the presence or handling of chemicals and noxious fumes. 

Issues Relating to Tribal, State, and Local Agencies

Many environmental programs have been delegated to the states and they have primary responsibility over them. In addition, some environmental laws and regulations apply to tribal government operations.

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Pesticides, the Environment, and Health

Pesticides, including insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, are used to control living organisms that damage crops, animals, or people.

Impact of Pesticides

While pesticides help eliminate pests, they can impact the environment and the health of some people:

Pesticide Poisoning

Cleanup and Spills

  • To report a large oil, chemical, or pesticide spill, contact the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802. 
  • For small pesticide spills, contact the manufacturer of the product to find out how to clean up the spill.

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Report Environmental Emergencies and Violations

Report an environmental emergency online through the National Response Center (NRC), or call the NRC at 1-800-424-8802 or 1-202-267-2675.

If you see something that immediately threatens public health or the environment, report it as an emergency first, and then report it as a possible violation.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains more about the difference between an environmental emergency and an environmental violation.

Report Environmental Emergencies

Environmental emergencies are a sudden threat to the public health or the well-being of the environment and can include:

  • Oil, natural gas, and chemical spills/releases
  • Radiation emergencies
  • Biological discharges
  • Transportation accidents

Report Environmental Violations

Environmental violations occur when an activity or an existing condition does not comply with an environmental law or regulation and can include:

  • Smoke or other emissions from local industrial facilities
  • Tampering with emission control or air conditioning systems in automobiles
  • Improper treatment, storage, or disposal of hazardous wastes
  • Exceedances of pollutant limits at publicly-owned wastewater treatment plants
  • Unpermitted dredging or filling of waters and wetlands
  • Unpermitted industrial activity
  • Late-night dumping or any criminal activity including falsifying reports or other documents

You can report a suspected environmental violation online with the EPA, or by calling an EPA regional office.

If the EPA cannot address the problem, they will forward it to or direct you to contact the appropriate authority.

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Water Quality

Water quality is the measure of the suitability of water for drinking or household needs, fishing, or other purposes.

Drinking Water

Drinking water that is contaminated with chemicals or organisms could cause sickness. The Safe Drinking Water Act was created to set legal limits on the level of certain contaminants in drinking water to ensure that it is safe.

Drinking water comes from a variety of sources:

Find information on testing your home’s drinking water.

Ground and Surface Water

Watersheds are areas of land where groundwater seeps into pores between sand, rock, and clay formations. Watersheds drain into surface water, such as streams, lakes, rivers, and oceans. The quality of groundwater in watersheds and surface water can impact human health and wildlife:

Report Ground, Drinking, and Bottled Water Problems

  • Report complaints about drinking or groundwater by calling the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.

  • File complaints about bottled water with the Food and Drug Administration:

    • Emergencies: To report a serious, life-threatening problem with bottled water, call the 24-hour emergency line at 1-866-300-4374 or 1-301-796-8240.

    • Non-Emergencies: To report adverse reactions or other problems with bottled water, contact your local FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator.

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Last Updated: June 15, 2017

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