Air quality objectives and standards

Air quality objectives are non-statutory limits on the acceptable presence of contaminants in the atmosphere, established by government agencies to protect human health and the environment. They are generally expressed in terms of a concentration (for example, micrograms per cubic metre, or parts per billion) measured over a specific period of time (for example, one hour, 24 hours or one year).

British Columbia has adopted air quality objectives and standards for a number of contaminants, including Particulate Matter (PM10 and PM2.5), ozone, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide.

How air quality objectives are used

Objectives are one kind of criteria. Criteria also include standards, guidelines and planning goals. Air quality objectives are used to guide decisions unless they are written specifically into a permit or regulation at which point they become binding requirements. They are typically used to:

  • assess current or historical air quality
  • guide decisions on the permitting of new or modified facilities
  • guide decisions to issue air quality advisories
  • develop long-term air-management strategies and evaluate progress
  • aid in regulatory development

As even low levels of air pollution can affect some individuals, air quality objectives should not be viewed as levels we can 'pollute up to', but levels to stay well below.

Objectives and standards

For more information, see the Provincial Framework for Developing Provincial Air Quality Objectives (PDF, 192.2KB).