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Air Quality

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Most strategies employed to reduce greenhouse gases are likely to result in reduced emissions of other air pollutants. Pollutants of considerable concern here in South Carolina are those related to fossil-fueled combustion from coal-fired power plants, large industrial sources and motor vehicles. The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide (CO2), particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOX), sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), air toxics, and other pollutants into the air we breathe.

Reducing greenhouse gases can have the very important benefit of helping areas meet national ambient air quality standards for pollutants including ground-level ozone (precursors include NOX and volatile organic compounds), PM2.5 and urban air toxics. Reductions in all of these pollutants will have a very positive impact on public health and the environment.

What are Greenhouse Gases?

Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are often called greenhouse gases. Some greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide occur naturally and are emitted to the atmosphere through natural processes and human activities. Other greenhouse gases (e.g., fluorinated gases) are created and emitted solely through human activities. The principal greenhouse gases that enter the atmosphere because of human activities are:

Carbon Dioxide (CO2):  Carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal), solid waste, trees and wood products, and also as a result of other chemical reactions (e.g., manufacture of cement). Carbon dioxide is also removed from the atmosphere (or "sequestered") when it is absorbed by plants as part of the biological carbon cycle.

Methane (CH4):  Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from livestock and other agricultural practices and by the decay of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills.

Nitrous Oxide (N2O):  Nitrous oxide is emitted during agricultural and industrial activities, as well as during combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste.

Fluorinated Gases:  Hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride, and other fluorinated gases are synthetic, powerful greenhouse gases that are emitted from a variety of industrial processes. Fluorinated gases are sometimes used as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances (i.e., CFCs, HCFCs, and halons).

To learn more about greenhouse gases and climate change, please visit U.S. EPA's Climate Change webpage.

For more information please contact the Bureau of Air Quality at (803) 898-4123 or by email.