Guess Who Turned 40
10/04/10 by Kacey Hoover
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Clean Air Act was enacted 40 years ago. This column by Air Quality Intern Kacey Hoover offers a student’s thoughts on the anniversary.
Can you guess whose birthday was celebrated this fall? Could it be Bruce Springsteen, Will Smith or the classic cartoon The Flintstones?
Well, yes, but I only celebrated one special birthday, and that’s the Clean Air Act which recently turned 40. Over the past 40 years the Clean Air Act has brought us new markets, strict regulations and a better life. Let’s look back and review some of its accomplishments.
First, the purpose of the Clean Air Act was to improve human health and the environment while promoting the growth of our nation. It gave birth to industrial scrubbers and markets that would manufacture catalytic converters for cars and trucks. It was a revolution to clean up our act and our air. Now, our cars and trucks produce 90 percent less particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, which are contributors to ground-level ozone.
In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has grants to retrofit buses for new emission filters. Students at China Grove Middle School in Rowan County have put their foot down at harmful emissions and instituted a program to eliminate idling on their campus. This shows that people are beginning to get the big picture of a bluer sky.
Furthermore, the act brought strict regulations that are being tied tighter today. Currently, the EPA’s 2008 standard for ground level ozone is 75 parts per billion (pbb). We in Rowan County are not meeting those standards, and it could have consequences not only for our health but also for our wallet.
The EPA plans to establish an even more stringent standard of 60 to 70 pbb this October. This is a perfect example that even though we may be meeting air quality targets set years ago doesn’t mean we will meet them in the future. On the bright side, the EPA notes that emission pollution has decreased by 41 percent in the past 20 years.
This has had a huge impact on our health. The Clean Air Act has reportedly prevented 205,000 premature deaths, 18 million child-related respiratory illnesses, as well as another 843,000 asthma attacks, according to the EPA. Growing up in Reading, Pa., my father remembers struggling to breathe during hot summer days, and on one occasion he was admitted to the hospital because he had had an asthma attack. I have never seen my father use an inhaler, but he still keeps one with him for that “just in case” moment. Personally I think that, since his childhood, the air quality has improved because of regulations like those implemented by the Clean Air Act. I cannot imagine what it would have been like for him if the act had never been put in place; he might actually have those “just in case” moments on a regular basis.
Examples like these give us reassurance that regulations can assist in reducing emission pollution and improving our health. Nevertheless, it is the individual that needs to make a personal commitment to reduce his or her impact because regulations can go only as far as industries and organizations.
You heard it from the great Richard Nixon himself: "I think that 1970 will be known as the year of the beginning, in which we really began to move on the problems of clean air and clean water and open spaces for the future generations of America."
We are that future generation he speaks of, and we are still facing the same issues today. We have come a long way, but we still have work to do. Let’s not wait for the Clean Air Act to be “over the hill” for us to see a positive change; let’s make that change today and fight for our right to breathe better!