Post Industrial Revolution

Two major air pollution health episodes raised awareness of the effect of pollution on human health and were instrumental in passage of the English Clean Air Act in the United Kingdom in 1956 and the Clean Air Act in the United States in 1970 (although federal air pollution control acts began to be passed in 1955, as discussed later in this chapter) [3,4]. These episodes occurred in Donora, Pennsylvania, in 1948 and in London, England, in 1952 and illustrated the fact that people will largely ignore pollution until it begins to kill in a dramatic way. In fact, local officials in Donora and London initially placed blame on weather inversions, frail health, and flu epidemics [3].

Donora, Pennsylvania, which is located south of Pittsburgh in the Monongahela Valley, was a town of approximately 26,000 people in the 1940s and home to a steel mill and zinc works [3]. The inhabitants were accustomed to dreary days, dirty buildings, and barren ground where no vegetation would grow, but they ignored the effect that the steel and zinc mills had on the population and environment as about two-thirds of the workers were employed in the steel and zinc mills. This continued until the "killer smog" of October 1948. Nearly half of the town's inhabitants were sick by the end of the second day of the thick smog, 20 people died in 3 days, 50 more deaths than would be expected from other causes occurred in the month following the episode, and many people experienced breathing difficulties for the rest of their lives [3]. It was discovered later that the cause for many of the fatalities was not sulfur dioxide from firing coal in the steel and zinc mills, as initially thought and often reported [5], but was fluoride poisoning from the fluorspar used in the zinc mill [3]. Regardless of the cause, this episode brought increased public awareness of air pollution and helped in the passage of air pollution laws.

A similar and even more severe episode occurred in London. London has been renowned for centuries for its thick fog, the infamous London smog. Throughout the eighteenth century, London experienced about 20 foggy days per year, but by the end of the nineteenth century, this had increased to 60 days [1]. People were beginning to become aware of a connection between pollution and certain sicknesses, and bronchitis was initially known as the "British disease." A severe pollution episode occurred in London in December 1952 with substantial loss of life and was followed by a similar one in January 1956 [4]. The more severe episode, which occurred in 1952, happened at a time when London was economically depressed and still recovering from World War II [3]. The government was selling its cleaner burning anthracite reserves to help pay its war debt while nearly all households were burning cheap, brown coal for heat. This situation was exacerbated in December 1952 when a cool spell (and temperature inversion) settled over London. London's 8 million residents burned the brown coal for warmth and the week-long inversion kept the smoke at ground level. In 7 days, an estimated 2800 people died [3].

History of Legislative Action for Coal-Fired Power Plants

The major development of air pollution legislative and regulatory acts occurred from 1955 to 1970; however, the early acts were narrow in scope as the U.S. Congress was hesitant to grant the federal government a high degree of control because air pollution problems were viewed as local or regional. This approach was found to be impractical as some states were hesitant to regulate industry and atmospheric transport of pollutants is not bounded by geographic lines. By the mid-1970s, the basis for national regulation of air pollution was developed and the actual regulations are continually changing. Regulations on coal-fired emissions essentially started in 1970 with the passing of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970. There were a few regulatory changes in the 1980s, but the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 resulted in significant regulatory changes. In December 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule to permanently cap and reduce mercury emissions from power plants and is expected to promulgate legislation by December 2004, with full compliance expected by 2007 [6]. Currently, legislation is under consideration that would further reduce levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Legislation for controlling carbon dioxide is currently being debated.

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