The U.S. Clean Air Act is 40! Happy Birthday!

clean air act photo

Photo: Flickr, CC
Time Flies When You're Cleaning the Air
The Clean Air Act was signed by President Richard Nixon on December 31, 1970, and so it is 40 this year. To celebrate, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is looking back at the past few decades to see how things have changed and what kind of impact this important piece of legislation had on air quality in the U.S. (and around the world, since there's only one atmosphere, and many other countries follow U.S. regulations pretty closely). Read on for more details.
clean air act photo

Photo: Flickr, CC

According to an EPA analysis, the first 20 years of Clean Air Act programs, from 1970 - 1990, has prevented:

-205,000 premature deaths
-672,000 cases of chronic bronchitis
-21,000 cases of heart disease
-843,000 asthma attacks
-189,000 cardiovascular hospitalizations
-10.4 million lost I.Q. points in children - from lead reductions
-18 million child respiratory illnesses

Of course, these numbers are estimates. Nobody knows exactly the impact of such a far-reaching legislation, and it's always especially hard to find out about things that didn't happen rather than things that did. But there's no doubt that the impact was immense and positive.

Many of the benefits of the Clean Air Act might have appeared without it, just from normal technological improvement and market pressure. But clean air is one of these things that markets have a hard time pricing in, so it's fair to say that air quality would probably be significantly worse without it.

There's also the 20th anniversary of the 1990 amendments:

In 1990, the Act was revised with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed into law by President Bush. From 1990 thru 2008, emissions of six common pollutants are down 41%, while gross domestic product has grown 64%. Emissions of volatile organic compounds have dropped 31%, carbon monoxide dropped 46% and sulfur dioxide dropped 51%.

Today's new cars, light trucks, and heavy-duty diesel engines are up to 95 percent cleaner than past models, and new non-road engines such as those used in construction and agriculture have 90 percent less particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions.

But let's not stop there! Our cars might be cleaner, but there's also a lot more of them, and "cleaner" isn't "clean". No time to rest on our laurels!

More on Air Pollution
Air-Purifying Road Surface Eats 45% of NOx Pollution
Could we Clean Up Air Pollution from Cargo Ships with... H2O?!
The Port of NY/NJ Will Replace Dirty Old Diesel Trucks to Slash Air Pollution

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