1. Cleaning up our air: a history of U.S. clean air laws
Air pollution is responsible for a host of health problems – from triggering respiratory irritation to aggravating asthma and heart conditions – and wreaks havoc on the environment, harming plants, animals and bodies of water.
Americans had originally viewed air pollution from cars and factories as a nuisance up until the 1940s, when they began to realize the health threats posed by poor air quality. A hodgepodge of state and weak federal clean air laws were put in place during the ‘50s and ‘60s, but by 1970, the public was ready for a concerted effort from the federal government to clean up the air. On April 22, 1970, air pollution was just one of the issues the first Earth Day activists rallied around.
The people spoke, and the government listened: President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency later that year and Congress passed the Clean Air Act to enact and enforce stricter air quality laws across the country.
From improving vehicle fuel efficiency to curbing acid rain, see how the Clean Air Act made great strides in reducing air pollution over the last four decades – and find out the most pressing issues affecting air quality and public health today.