Lava Beds is located in a class one air shed. The air quality of the local area is threatened by wood burning stoves from local sources, seasonal prescribed and natural fire occurance, agricultural burning and field preparation, development, and other impacts. Monitoring of air quality indicators is done throughout the year through cooperative agreements with the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Quality Board since 1993, and an IMPORVE station installed by the University of California, Davis Crocker Nuclear Lab Air Quality Group in 2000. Ozone levels are measured during the summer months by the National Park Service.
Air is considered a natural resource in all NPS units and many park values and resources are dependent on good air quality. The Federal Clean Air Act (CAA), amended in 1990, was enacted to preserve, protect, and enhance air quality in regions of the United States, which are of special national or regional natural, recreational, scenic or historic value. The CAA identified a classification scheme to facilitate the prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) of air quality. Lava Beds is a Class I Airshed. Class I areas receive the highest degree of protection with only a small amount of certain kinds of additional air pollution allowed. Mandatory Class I areas were designated by Congress and include national wilderness areas over 5,000 acres. Lava Beds falls into this category.
The CAA declares a "National Visibility Goal" to prevent and remedy visibility impairment in Mandatory Class I areas caused by human air pollution. Visibility refers to the clarity of the atmosphere and is typically measured as the distance one can see at a particular location and time. The absorption and scattering of light by both gasses and particles in the atmosphere restricts visibility. Natural factors which contribute to decrease visibility include fog, precipitation, blowing dust and snow, and relative humidities above 70%. Human activities that reduce visibility include the combustion of fossil fuels which transforms emissions into tiny visibility-reducing particles termed "aerosols".
The CAA has also identified national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) to protect public health and welfare. NAAQS have been set for six pollutants: particulate matter less than 10 microns (PM10), carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, and lead. These pollutants are called "criteria pollutants", because the standards satisfy criteria specified in the CAA. The three main air pollutants of concern at Lava Beds are ozone, sulfur dioxide, and PM10. Lava Beds has, at various times, monitored all three criteria.