The Long Fight Against Air Pollution
Article from Smithsonian Magazine by Brian Vastag
Synopsis and resource annotations by Max Grinnell
In 1952, a massive smog bank settled over London and it was responsible for
approximately 12,000 deaths during the coming months. It served as a wake-up
call to Britons, and four years later the United Kingdom passed a set of broad
air pollution regulations. The United States followed suit in 1970 when the
federal government created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and also
passed the Clean Air Act.
There remains much to be done in terms of air quality in the United States, and
this article by Brian Vastag for the Smithsonian magazine website takes a close
look at the future of regulating indoor air quality and the concentrations of
ozone throughout the country.
The piece begins with a brief history of air pollution regulation in the US, and
then begins to offer some perspective on how the EPA has modified its standards
over the past several decades. In recent years, there has been a great push from
citizens groups and others to work on issues including radon and indoor smoking
The article goes on to describe particulate pollution and the "Six Cities" study
done by Harvard University, which was begun in the early 1970s. That research
determined that the study area with the fewest particles (Portage, Wisconsin)
had 26 percent fewer deaths from lung and heart diseases than Steubenville,
Ohio, which had the dirtiest air. As a result of this study, the EPA tightened
its regulations on particulate pollution in 1997, and the agency began
regulating particles as small as 2.5 microns across.
Vastag concludes the article discussing the challenges involved with lowering
the concentrations of ozone, which forms when sunlight reacts with various
pollutants. The EPA tightened its ozone limit in 2008, and an even more
restrictive standard is currently on the table. Of course, there is also the
question of greenhouse gases, and in 2009, the EPA declared them to be dangers
to human health. While the EPA does not regulate emissions of these gases, the
agency has recommended that Congress pass comprehensive climate change
Found below is a list of useful resources that will illuminate and
enhance understanding of the topics found within this article.
The first link
to "An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality", provided by the EPA.
The second link
will take interested parties to a case based lesson plan from the BioQUEST
Curriculum Consortium. Here users will find a lesson plan that has students
generating maps of ozone concentrations, graphing air quality indices, and
proposing solutions to air quality problems.
The third link
a travel emissions calculator that can be used to determine emissions from a
variety of transportation methods.
Moving on, the
leads to a
lesson plan created by the National Park Service to introduce students to the
world of air quality issues.
The fifth link
another resource created by the EPA that allows users to determine how clean
their electricity source (or sources) might be.
an activity that helps students determine the total nitrogen oxide emissions
from sources that include coal-fired power plants and gas-powered lawnmowers.