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Air emissions are typically associated with processes such as combustion, storage of materials or other industry-sector specific processes and can be:

  • Point sources: These are discrete, stationary, identifiable sources of emissions (such as a specific stack, vent or other discrete point of emission) that release pollutants to the atmosphere. They are typically located in manufacturing or production plants. Point sources are characterized by the release of air pollutants typically associated with the combustion of fossil fuels, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and particulate matter (PM), as well as other air pollutants including certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and metals that may also be associated with a wide range of industrial activities.
  • Fugitive sources: These are emissions that are distributed spatially over a wide area and originate in operations where exhausts are not captured and released through a stack. Fugitive emissions have the potential for much greater ground-level impacts than stationary source emissions, since they are discharged and dispersed close to the ground. The two main types of fugitive emissions are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (PM). Other contaminants (NOx, SO2 and CO) are mainly associated with combustion processes designed to deliver electrical or mechanical power, steam and heat.
  • Mobile sources: These are emissions associated with vehicle use and include CO, NOx, SO2, PM and VOCs. Emissions can be reduced by implementing a regular vehicle maintenance and repair program, instructing drivers on better driving practices that reduce both the risk of accidents and fuel consumption, replacing older vehicles with newer, more fuel efficient alternatives, converting to cleaner fuels and installing emissions control devices such as catalytic converters.

A client/investee should estimate and monitor air emissions associated with operations through qualitative or quantitative assessments and atmospheric dispersion models to assess potential ground level concentrations and environmental impacts. At a facility level, air emissions should not result in pollutant concentrations that exceed the ambient air quality standards set by national authorities, which would result in fines and/or penalties if concentrations are in violation of national legislation. Pollutant concentrations can also be compared to international best practice and standards to identify any deviations, which would indicate poor performance of an operation. Air emissions of concern typically include:

  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): Emissions of VOCs are associated with industrial activities that produce, store and use VOC-containing liquids or gases in particular where the material is under pressure. Typical sources include equipment leaks (from valves, fittings and elbows), open vats and mixing tanks, storage tanks, unit operations in wastewater treatment systems and accidental releases. Emissions can be reduced by modifying equipment, regularly monitoring equipment to detect and repair leaks, using less volatile substances such as aqueous solvents and collecting vapors through air extractors.
  • Particulate Matter (PM): Dust or particulate matter (PM) is released during certain operations such as the combustion of fossil fuels, open storage of solid materials, and from exposed soil surfaces, including unpaved roads. Emissions can be reduced through dust control methods such as covers, water suppression, or increased moisture content for open materials storage piles, or controls (such as a baghouse or cyclone).
  • Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS): Ozone depleting substances (ODSs) include chemicals, which have been scheduled for phase-out under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer . Systems or processes using chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons, 1,1,1-trichloroethane (methyl chloroform), carbon tetrachloride, hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), hydrobromofluorocarbons (HBFCs), and methyl bromide should be gradually phased out or not used at all as determined by national regulations. These chemicals are typically used in a variety of applications including refrigeration, air conditioning, manufacturing foam products, solvent cleaning, aerosol propellants, fire protection systems and as crop fumigants.
  • Greenhouse Gases (GHGs): Greenhouse Gases (GHGs), as defined under the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). GHGs can be generated by a facility’s production processes as well as from the production of power (on-site or off-site) for use by the facility. Emissions can be reduced through mechanisms such as carbon financing, energy efficiency, sustainable forms of agriculture and forestry, use of renewable forms of energy, carbon capture and storage technologies, recovery and use of methane in waste management and energy distribution.
  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2): Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is mainly produced by the combustion of fuels such as oil and coal and as a by-product from some chemical production or wastewater treatment processes. Emissions can be reduced through the use of alternate fuels such as low sulfur coal, light diesel or natural gas, emissions control technologies.
  • Toxics (mercury): Mercury exists as elemental mercury, inorganic mercury compounds (primarily mercuric chloride), and organic mercury compounds (primarily methyl mercury). All forms of mercury are toxic and each form exhibits different health effects. A major source of exposure to elemental mercury is through inhalation in the work place. Sources of inorganic mercury compounds are generally low as their use has mostly been banned but limited exposure can occur through the use of old cans of latex paint. Sources of methyl mercury include fungicide-treated grains and meat from animals fed with treated grain.

Where possible, a client’s/investee’s operations should avoid, minimize and control adverse impacts to human health, safety and the environment from emissions to air. The generation and release of air emissions can be managed through a combination of energy use efficiency, process modification, selection of fuels or other materials and application of emissions control techniques. A financial institution can help a client/investee to identify areas for reductions in air emissions and to identify environmental business opportunities.

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