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Indoor and Outdoor Air Pollution - A Right to Breathe

  • Apr 04, 2022
  • 250

The present generation often thinks that indoor and outdoor air pollution is a new problem that has only been addressed in the last few years, but many, many people have been looking for answers to the problem for quite some time. Just recently, the 40th anniversary of the Clean Air Act was commemorated. What have we learned from the first 40 years?

Air Not Fit to Breathe

At the end of the 1960s, some concerned individuals in Birmingham, Alabama decided it was time to do something about the air pollution in their city. They formed an organization called GASP, which recognized the plight of those within the city who were dying and unable to breathe because of the air pollution. The letters stand for Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution.

In those days there were many factories spewing particulates into the air. Most days, you could not see downtown Birmingham from the surrounding hills because the pollution was so great. On the bad days, it was almost impossible to breathe outdoors.

There were no appliances like the Honeywell room air purifier back in those days to clean up the indoor air either. GASP became organized and attempted to mediate with factory owners and other organizations that were pumping tons of pollution into the air. The results were very nominal because no one wanted to adhere to what the law required.

Birmingham was the second worst city in the United States at the time that GASP was organized, but businesses had no intention of doing anything about the problem they had created. At one time, the particulate count was as high as 771, and a low-pressure system forced the pollution to stay on the ground. When big businesses refused to cut production during the days of the stagnate air, the legislature was convinced by citizens and GASP that something had to be done.

The Work is Not Done

The EPA came into the picture and shut down 23 non-conforming plants. Although it wasn’t permanent, it did force the big industries to work on emissions and slow the pollution. Due to the work of many residents, the air was improved, but the work is not yet over. According to a report in 2009, Birmingham still ranks as having the most polluted air in the South.

Those who are concerned with the special interests of a few powerful entities say that in comparison to 1970, the air is very much improved. The fallacy of that concept is you do not compare the worst with the present and say everything is fine; you compare the present with the ideal to have a proper comparison. Not everyone owns a Surround Air XJ-3800 Air Purifier to keep the air in their living space clean.

According to the EPA, if the air quality throughout the nation was improved to passable limits of pollution, each year there would be 7,300 fewer cases of bronchitis, 51,000 less asthma cases, 5,000 fewer heart attack victims, and a 2,500 decrease in premature deaths.

Still the lessons are not learned. Jefferson and Shelby counties, which comprise most of Birmingham, have lost $5 billion in economic investment and had to turn down 15 major industries because of the polluted air. Alabama Power is the largest contributor to the city’s pollution because of three outdated coal fired power plants. Even if the planned controls come into being in 2012, those plants will still contribute most of the pollution to the city. GASP for air indeed.



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Martin Ford By, Martin Ford
Martin Ford is the author of the two books Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (2015) and The Lights In the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (2009) — both dealing with the effects of automation and mass-unemployment. He is the founder of a Silicon Valley-based software development firm, and obtained a computer engineering degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a graduate business degree from UCLA's Anderson School of Management.
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