Frequently Asked Questions
These are some of the most common questions we get. Click on the question to open up the answer.
If you have a question that isn’t answered below, please get in touch!
What does GASP do?
GASP is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to advance healthy air and environmental justice in the Greater-Birmingham area. Our vision is a healthy, just, and sustainable Alabama for everyone who lives, works, learns, and worships here. We strive to reduce air pollution, to educate the public on the health risks associated with poor air quality and to encourage community leaders to serve as role models for clean air and clean energy development. Our work centers around four goals: 1) reducing air pollution, 2) securing environmental justice, 3) promoting clean, renewable energy, and 4) mitigating the effects of climate change in the Birmingham area. Our strategies are education, advocacy, collaboration, and organizing.
Is GASP a law firm? Can you represent me/my family/my community?
No, GASP is not a law firm and we cannot represent individual clients in civil or criminal matters. We utilize the power of the law to advance our strategic objectives, but that does not include private litigation. If you need legal help, please contact your attorney.
What can I do to help clean up Greater-Birmingham's air pollution?
First of all, thanks for asking! The most helpful things you can do are:
You can also contact your elected officials (e.g., your mayor, city councilor, county commissioner, state legislators, congressperson, senator, etc.) and tell them about your air quality concer.s
We also urge everyone to please report your local air pollution complaints to the appropriate regulatory agencies (i.e., JCDH, ADEM, and EPA) and to GASP so that we can facilitate any investigations, file reviews, or enforcement actions.
Finally, there are small things every individual can do to contribute. You can reduce your personal fossil fuel-based energy consumption (e.g., drive less, use energy efficient appliances, don’t turn the A/C down so low, etc.). Let’s be honest: most of us could consume less in general. Don’t purchase products with VOCs in them. Reduce your meat consumption.
What is air pollution?
Pollution refers to substances that are released into natural environment that can cause harm. (That is, pollution by definition is detrimental to people, animals, plants, and ecosystems.) Air pollution refers to airborne particles that are released into the ambient air. Air pollution can result from burning fossil fuels, wildfires, volcanos, internal combustion engines (e.g., cars), windstorms, and so forth. Some air pollution is manmade, and some air pollution is caused naturally.
Air pollution easily enters our lungs (and can even enter our bloodstream) and causes myriad health problems. In the Greater-Birmingham area, there are nearly 40,000 cases of pediatric asthma and almost 100,000 adults living with asthma. More than 100,000 residents of the metro area suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). These individuals are at elevated risk from exposure to air pollution.
Isn’t air pollution a lot better than it used to be?
When it comes to air pollution, whose health is at risk?
Air pollution affects everyone. In fact, recent research found that air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels alone caused 8.7 million deaths in 2018.
Children, seniors, pregnant women, and people with heart and lung diseases are the most vulnerable to the devastating health effects of air pollution.
Additionally, air pollution concentrations vary widely by community. People who live closest to industrial facilities, power plants, airports, and highways experience worse air quality more consistently than the rest of the population. In particular, Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color, as well as low-income communities, are exposed to disproportionately higher levels of air pollution.
This means that air pollution isn’t just a health or environmental issue. It’s also a justice issue.
Is Birmingham’s air quality that bad?
OK, maybe the air quality isn’t perfect but it's improving, right?
I looked up the current air quality where I’m at. It says, “Good.” Does that mean the air I’m breathing is healthy?
The short answer is: No, not necessarily.
If you check air quality on airnow.gov, our website, or even your smart phone weather app, you’ll see what’s called the “Air Quality Index,” or AQI. The AQI is essentially a color-coded “score” of current air conditions in regions where there are air monitors that meet federal requirements. Values range from 0 to 500+.
The AQI tells you what the overall air quality is in a geographic area based on several pollutants: particulate matter (PM), ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and carbon monoxide (CO). The AQI does not tell you what the exact air quality is where you are.
How are the AQI colors determined?
I don’t see an AQI in my area. Why’s that?
The health department says the plant near my home is “in compliance” with its permit. Does that mean there’s nothing to worry about?
Absolutely not. If a regulatory agency tells you that a facility is “in compliance,” this simply means that based on what they know, a plant is adhering to its air permit. It does not tell you whether or not air quality is good or bad at any given moment or if there is a long-term exposure risk in an area. Plants should be in compliance — that’s the bare minimum and it’s the law. But one plant’s compliance with a permit is not a public health standard or a determination of air quality.
Air pollution permits are just that: permits to pollute. Air pollution is not good for our health, ever. It is the #1 route for toxic pollution to enter our bodies. A compliant plant is still polluting your air.
Furthermore, it’s important to recognize that there are different types of pollution permits. GASP spends a great deal of time focusing on Title V (of the Clean Air Act), sometimes called “major source permits.” Larger plants have to have a Title V permit. There are polluters that generate air pollution under a certain threshold don’t even have to obtain Title V permits. Those facilities may have to obtain a what’s called a synthetic minor source permits or a minor source permit, depending on their potentially to emit pollution.
Air polluters’ permit limits are often calculated with an understanding that emissions are toxic and may cause a certain percentage of the local population to die, so some polluter’s emissions are still very dangerous to locals, even if they are in permit compliance (e.g, coke plants).
If a plant is adhering to its air permit, doesn’t that mean it’s in compliance with state and federal air pollution regulations.
Wait, I thought I heard the EPA said Birmingham’s air quality was certified as good or “in compliance” with the Clean Air Act now.
OK, so the health department told me all of the plants in my area are in compliance AND Birmingham is in attainment with NAAQS. Does that mean I shouldn’t be concerned about air pollution at all?
Besides manufacturing plants and power plants, are there other sources of air pollution I should be aware of?
What exactly are the health effects of breathing air pollution?
Particle pollution (PM) is one of the most common pollutants and breathing it can cause very serious problems, such as asthma attacks, heart attacks, and strokes.
Exposure to ground-level ozone, another common pollutant, can result in breathing difficulty, asthma attacks, and lung damage. Breathing ozone or PM can even result in death.
There is another category of pollutants called Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) — also known as “air toxics.” These include 187 chemicals and heavy metals (e.g., benzene) that are known or suspected to cause cancer and other very serious health effects.
What air pollutants are covered by the NAAQS and HAPS?
The Clean Air Act has different “technology-based” requirements for HAPs called “National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants” (NESHAP). Under these technology-based requirements, facilities must Install equipment and follow work practices to reduced HAP emissions. The requirements for controlling HAPs are based on particular categories of sources, and not all categories are covered.
HAPs from power plants are regulated under a rule called the “Mercury and Air Toxics Standards,” or MATS.