What is a smog alert?

A smog alert is a warning that air quality conditions are so bad outside that physical exertion outdoors may lead to respiratory discomfort. For people suffering from asthma, severe smog alert conditions could lead to asthma attacks and even hospitalization. An orange level or above reading in the Air Quality Index is cause for a smog alert to be issued.

How is asthma related to air pollution levels?

Asthma is rapidly becoming one of the major health issues in the United States, especially for children living in cities. A study released by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in 2008 showed that asthma particularly affected children in poor, inner-city areas and that car emissions of nitrogen dioxide, as well as air particulates and sulfur dioxide, were to blame. The study evaluated over 800 children in seven urban areas. These children had significantly higher rates of asthma and decreased lung function, which contributed to poor health and school absenteeism, even when the level of pollutants in the areas where they lived was deemed to be lower than acceptable standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Other studies have also shown that children have more allergies when they have been exposed to higher levels of air pollution.

What is the Clean Air Act?

In New York City in 1966, air pollution became so awful that hundreds of deaths were attributed to it that year. This and other serious pollution problems in America led to the 1970 Clean Air Act, which was later amended in 1977 and again in 1990. The Clean Air Act was designed to improve the air quality for all Americans. It was preceded by the Air Quality Act of 1967, which failed to do the job because it did not require environmental standards to be set. The Clean Air Act, however, charges the Environmental Protection Agency with setting standards regarding emissions of air pollutants (ranging from ozone and benzene to carbon monoxide and particulate matter) from factories, power plants, and all modes of transportation.

What are the National Ambient Air Quality Standards?

Part of the Clean Air Act, the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) are set values that are considered the maximum limits before air becomes too unhealthy to breathe safely. Industries that produce pollutants must adhere to these standards or else face fines and other penalties from the federal government. The standards are listed below.

National Ambient Air Quality Standards



Over an Average Period

Carbon monoxide

9 parts per million

8 hours

35 parts per million

1 hour


1.5 micrograms per cubic meter

3 months

Nitrogen dioxide

100 micrograms per cubic meter

12 months


120 parts per billion

hourly average can't exceed

once per year over three


Particulate matter

50 micrograms per cubic meter

12 months

150 micrograms per cubic meter

24 hours

Sulfur dioxide

80 micrograms per cubic meter

12 months

365 micrograms per cubic meter

24 hours

Who created the first anti-air pollution law in Western history?

England's King Edward I proclaimed in 1306 c.e. that coal burning was to be restricted while Parliament was in session. The penalty for violating this law was rather harsh by today's standards: death.

Methane gas emanated from livestock has actually become hazardous to the ozone layer because of the sheer numbers of cows, pigs, and other farm animals.

Methane gas emanated from livestock has actually become hazardous to the ozone layer because of the sheer numbers of cows, pigs, and other farm animals.

What caused the Bhopal disaster?

In December 1984, the U.S.-owned Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, leaked toxic chemicals (methyl isocyanate gas) that killed over 3,800 people. It was the worst industrial accident in history. Union Carbide paid a fine of $470 million to avoid facing criminal charges.

How much pollution is caused by smoking tobacco?

A 2004 study concluded that cigarette smoking released 10 times the amount of particulate pollution in the United States as was caused by diesel exhaust. Indoor pollution from smoking has been in the news a lot lately because the smoke is much more concentrated indoors, causing health problems even to those who refrain from the habit.

Is air pollution destroying our architectural history?

Yes. Many important buildings and monuments around the world are slowly being destroyed by air pollution and acid rain. The famous Taj Mahal in Agra, India, for instance, is turning from white to yellow because of pollution from car exhaust, so the local government has banned automobile traffic from coming closer than 1.25 miles (two kilometers). In other locales, the Sphinx in Egypt and the Parthenon in Greece are both being eaten away by acid rains. The acids are produced by sulfur dioxide mixing with water to form sulfuric acid solutions. This is particularly damaging to structures built from limestone and sandstone—common materials used by many civilizations throughout history—which are turned into powdery gypsum as a result. Over time, layers of building material crumble and turn to dust.

How do factory farms contribute to air pollution?

One of the debates currently raging between environmentalists and the agricultural industry concerns factory farms. These are large, usually corporate-owned facilities in which there are high concentrations of livestock or where vast areas of cropland contribute to fertilizer runoff. When it comes to air pollution, such farms are a major contributor to the problem. So much animal waste is generated by factory farms, that large lagoons filled with manure and urine have to be built to maintain all of it. Some of this liquid manure is dispersed by spraying it onto crops as fertilizer, but that doesn't really help the issue. These wastes generate large amounts of noxious pollutants, including ammonia gas, methane, and hydrogen sulfide, as well as carbon dioxide. Such gases contribute to acid rain and ozone depletion. In addition, livestock flatulence (to put it bluntly, burping and farting cows) is another source of methane gas. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 20 percent of methane gas generated by human civilization comes from agricultural activities.

What did the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently say about power plant emissions?

In 2004, the EPA estimated that every year about 2,800 people die from lung cancer and another 38,200 have heart attacks as a direct result of pollutants from power plants.

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