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Environmental Health

Air Quality Program

Elevated levels of air pollutants increase the occurrence of respiratory diseases, such as asthma, and shorten life expectancy. The Air Quality Program enforces local laws in order to improve indoor and outdoor air quality. The Program also conducts research on air pollution exposure and pollution reduction strategies to inform land use and transportation planning and policy decisions.

Principal Activities and Services

  • Implement Article 38 of the Health Code by assisting developers of new residential parcels to determine whether enhanced ventilation is required under the local ordinance.
  • Implement Article 31 of the Health Code through review, approval and monitoring of dust control plans for large construction sites.
  • Measure and model priority air pollutants, including particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and diesel exhaust.
  • Develop a Community Risk Reduction Plan to improve air quality and eliminate air pollution exposure disparities.
  • Enforce the city's secondhand smoke ordinance.
  • Coordinate with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in developing and enforcing health protective air pollution policy.

Article 38 of the San Francisco Health Code

Scientific studies consistently show an association between exposure to air pollution and significant human health problems. In 2008, San Francisco Health Code (HC) Article 38 was adopted to require new residential construction projects located in areas where models show poor air quality and pollution from roadways must install enhanced ventilation to protect residents from the respiratory, heart, and other health effects of living in a poor air quality area. For buildings subject to the requirements of Article 38, enhanced ventilation must be provided to all units in a building, even those on the upper floors, as there is compelling evidence that outdoor air quality at higher elevations is not consistently improved over air quality at street level.

Article 38 states that those buildings requiring enhanced ventilation "design a system capable of removing >80% of ambient PM2.5 from habitable areas of dwelling units". Building engineers and designers may choose the ventilation design that works best for their setting, as exemplified by some of these examples of enhanced ventilation designs that comply with the requirements of Article 38.

In 2013, San Francisco Department of Public Health, the San Francisco Department of City Planning, and the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection began cooperating to improve the way that Article 38 is implemented and to propose amendments to the existing law to clarify ambiguities in the current language and improve the way the law is implemented to protect the public health. Concurrently, in collaboration with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, revisions were made to the underlying map and simpler methods for determining where poor air quality zones exist in the city were developed. Beginning in July 2013, the Air Quality Program began providing several options for determining compliance with Article 38, described in our Guidance for Project Sponsors. The guidance describes a simpler way to comply with the law, and outlines a clear process for approval of enhanced ventilation systems.

For project sponsors who select Option 2 in the guidance, SFDPH is available to conduct location specific air quality initial assessments and reviews for private individuals and organizations on a fee for service basis. Requests for air quality assessments should include: (1) Project location (address and parcel number); (2) Map of project including all surrounding streets within 500 feet; (3) Name of assigned planner to the project from the Planning Department; and (4) The appropriate fee in the form of a check payable to the San Francisco Environmental Health Section. Mail all requests to: Article 38 Air Quality Assessment Manager, 1390 Market Street, Suite 210, San Francisco, CA 94102.

Project sponsors who select Option 3 in the guidance may refer to the Air Pollutant Exposure Zone Map to determine whether their project will be required to install enhanced ventilation.

Planning, Policy and Research

For more information on Air Quality Program activities involving planning, policy and research, please see the Program on Health, Equity and Sustainability.

To Make a Complaint

The following agencies are responsible for responding to complaints regarding specific air pollution issues. Please contact the appropriate agency depending on the type of complaint.

Bay Area Air Quality Management District

  • Industrial plants
  • Factories
  • Refineries
  • Neighborhood businesses or odor
  • Dust or chemical air pollutants
  • Wood smoke complaints regarding burning of wood and related solid fuels
  • Smoking vehicle complaints for excessive exhaust from cars, trucks or buses

San Francisco Police Department

  • Diesel truck idling

If your complaint does not fit into the above categories, contact the Department of Public Health's Environmental Health Section by clicking here.