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Issues related to air pollution when purchasing a property

The information provided below is intended to help individuals or businesses looking to purchase property to get an overview of DNR programs and/or regulations related to air pollution. Many activities including painting, sanding, burning, construction and demolition can impact air quality and may be regulated.

Air quality

Which geographic areas are not meeting federal air quality standards, and what does that mean for a business?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets standards, called National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) that states must meet for criteria air pollutants. Because of their effect on human health, the EPA has standards for carbon monoxide (CO), lead (Pb), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3) and particulate matter less than 10 microns in size (PM10). If an area of the state is meeting the NAAQS, it is called an "attainment area". Those areas that do not meet a standard are classified as "nonattainment" for that pollutant. Currently, Sheboygan county and a portion of Kenosha County located east of I-94 are designated as nonattainment areas for ozone, and the Rhinelander area is in nonattainment for sulfur dioxide.

Action must be taken in the nonattainment areas to reduce the problem pollutants. For example, all major sources of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and NOx in the ozone nonattainment area are required to use Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT) standards in addition to other requirements. Requirements may apply in some former nonattainment areas as well to prevent those areas from falling back into nonattainment. Information on each pollutant and the areas affected is available at Air pollutants and standards. For more information specific to ozone standards, visit the Ozone page and click on the Air Regulations tab.

If you have questions regarding air regulations affecting a facility, view the Air Management Program Contacts page to find DNR Air Program staff who are knowledgeable on a specific topic. This page also includes a staff phone directory to find DNR contacts for the specific area in which a facility is located or wishes to locate.

Current air quality conditions can be found at Wisconsin’s Current Air Quality.

Air permits

Is an air permit required? How does a facility know if it is exempt?

Businesses in Wisconsin that generate certain types of air pollution such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter (PM) or hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) are regulated. Air emissions are regulated by both the EPA and the DNR. The DNR’s Small Business Environmental Assistance Program (SBEAP) has details on both state-specific and federal requirements at Air regulations.

If a business produces air emissions above certain levels, a DNR air permit is required. Visit the Air permit options page for information on the different types of permits available in Wisconsin prior to beginning construction of a new facility, making modifications to an existing facility or beginning operation. Facilities that produce emissions below certain thresholds may qualify for permit exemptions.

Facilities that are planning to construct or modify equipment that produces air emissions may qualify for a construction permit exemption if the facility already has an operation permit, or has submitted an application for one, and the project meets certain emission limits. See the fact sheet Exemptions from Construction Permits Based on Actual Emissions (AM-387) for applicable thresholds, other eligibility requirements and how to apply. It is important to submit the required materials to the DNR before beginning any work on a project. The facility will receive a response within 20 business days of receipt of a complete application.

Facilities with low actual emissions may qualify for an operation permit exemption. See the fact sheet Exemption from Operation Permits Based on Actual Emissions (AM-388) for emission thresholds and other eligibility requirements. Facilities qualifying for this exemption are also covered under the construction permit exemption as long as the operation exemption requirements continue to be met.

Please note that a facility may be required to meet additional air regulations even if it is exempt from needing a permit. See the SBEAP Air regulations page for details on additional state and federal requirements.

What are the types of air permits available in Wisconsin?

If a facility is not eligible for an exemption, an air permit will be required. There are several types of air permits available. A brief description of the options is provided below. Visit the Air permit options page for details on determining which permit is right for a facility. The DNR's Permit Primer is a tool that goes through a series of questions about a facility’s operations to help determine if an air permit may be required.

If a facility is not eligible for a permit exemption, but emits at relatively low levels, it may qualify for a registration permit. In exchange for meeting a facility-wide emission cap, this streamlined permit takes 15 days to review, never expires, requires less frequent and simplified record keeping, and allows for modifications without obtaining a construction permit. However, unlike an individual permit, the registration permit does not provide information on additional state and federal requirements that may apply to the facility. You can learn about the different types of registration permits and review fact sheets, application documents and compliance assistance resources under the "Registration" tab on the Air permit options page.

New or expanding facilities or those making modifications to an air emission source will require a construction permit. The construction permit will ensure that the project will be able to meet air pollution regulations before construction begins and allows the facility to operate for an initial trial period. The permit expires after 18 months, with the possibility of an extension. Specific permit requirements will depend on the facility's potential to emit, what pollutants will be emitted and the location of the operation. The "Construction" tab on the Air permit options page provides details about the application process and general requirements.

After construction, the facility will need an operation permit which will outline emission limits as well as monitoring, record keeping and reporting requirements. One permit may cover the whole business, or there may be multiple permits for different parts of the company. The permit will need to be renewed every five years and the application for renewal must be submitted at least six months before the expiration date. See the "Operation" tab on the Air permit options page for a summary of the different forms and applications available as well as general requirements.

Construction and operation permits can be source-specific (written specifically for the individual facility) or general (written for facilities with similar operations that are subject to the same requirements). General permits are currently available for asphalt plants, rock crushing plants and several different types of printing facilities. Decisions on general permit eligibility are made within 15 days. General permits cost less and usually allow for modifications without the need for a construction permit. If the facility cannot meet all the standard requirements of the permit, an individual permit will be required. If the facility falls under one of the general categories listed above, review the information under the "General" tab of the Air permit options page to see if a general permit is right for your facility.

When a facility changes hands, what happens to existing permits under which the facility is covered?

When purchasing an existing business or property on which a business previously existed, it is important to be aware of any existing air permits, permit applications, or emission fees that may still apply to the facility. In the event of purchasing a business and planning to continue operations, the Permits may stay active. However, if the activities covered under the existing permit or permit application will no longer take place, the existing owner should notify the DNR that they would like their permits revoked. If the DNR is not notified, the owner will be responsible for future permit fees. Even if the permits are revoked, past fees may come due after the property changes hands. If this is the case, the buyer and seller will want to discuss the issue prior to the transaction to determine how the fees will be handled.

For more information, go to the page on Notifying the DNR Air Program of Changes.


Is asbestos a concern when purchasing an existing building?

Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and exposure to it poses a serious health risk. It is found in a wide variety of materials used in industrial, commercial and residential buildings. Asbestos is regulated as an air pollutant by both the EPA and the DNR. In the event of demolition or renovation to an existing building, it is important to identify any materials that may present a threat. Planning Your Demolition or Renovation Project: A Guide to Hazard Evaluation, Recycling and Waste Disposal (WA-651) can help with assessing the risk of asbestos or other potential hazards.

The DNR regulates demolition and renovation activities. Prior to beginning work on a building, most structures must be thoroughly inspected (see the next paragraph) to determine if asbestos is present in the building or section where the project will take place. Single family homes that are not part of a larger project and residential structures with four or fewer units are exempt; however, an asbestos inspection is still recommended. If present, most asbestos-containing materials will have to be removed from the project area before other work begins. Please note: The DNR must be notified 10 working days before any demolition activities begin whether or not asbestos is found and before renovations that disturb certain quantities of asbestos-containing material. There are additional regulations for how the asbestos can be removed and disposed of as well. See Asbestos removal and notification for details on these requirements.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services also regulates asbestos. DHS requires that inspections are performed by a DHS certified asbestos inspector. Removal also requires a professional certified by DHS who will be responsible for disposal of the material. The Certified Asbestos Company page can help you find these services. Other relevant information about DHS's Asbestos Program can be found on their web page Overview - Lead and Asbestos Section.

Questions about asbestos on a property may be directed to a DNR asbestos inspector. The Wisconsin Asbestos Inspectors by County map provides a list of contacts for different areas of the state. Other helpful information can be found here:

Open burning

What am I allowed to burn when clearing my new property?

Open burning (burning any material outdoors without any air pollution controls) is regulated in Wisconsin for both individuals and businesses. Make sure to also check with local authorities. Local restrictions and permit requirements may be more stringent than the statewide regulations.

Businesses are generally not permitted to burn waste they generate. Individuals are also prohibited from burning many kinds of waste, including treated wood, plastic and household garbage. The burning of any structure (building, home, shed, etc.) is also prohibited. The only exception is for firefighter training exercises. There are many alternatives to burning waste, including recycling, composting and landfilling. For an overview of what can and cannot be burned, see Can my business burn waste? or Facts on open burning for business, industry and municipalities in Wisconsin. Additional details can be found on the DNR’s Open burning page.

Additional resources