Learning Objectives

To make the students aware of history of air pollution; definition of air pollution and various types of sources and classification of air pollutants.

Lecture 1 Lecture 2 Lecture 3

History of Air Pollution
  • 1272 - King Edward I of England bans use of “sea coal”
  • 1377 – 1399 - Richard II restricts use of coal
  • 1413 – 1422 - Henry V regulates/restricts use of coal
  • 1661 - By royal command of Charles II, John Evelyn of the Royal Society publishes “Fumifugium; or the Inconvenience of the Air and Smoke dissipated; together with Some Remedies Humbly Proposed”
  • 1784—Watt’s steam engine; boilers to burn fossil fuels (coal) to make steam to pump water and move machinery
  • Smoke and ash from fossil fuels by power plants, trains, ships: coal (and oil) burning = smoke, ash
  • 1907 - Formation of the predecessor to the Air & Waste Management Association
  • 1930 - 1950’s - Air Pollution Episodes
  • 1955 First Federal Air Pollution Control Act - funds for research (USA)
  • 1960 Motor Vehicle Exhaust Act - funds for research (USA)
  • 1963 Clean Air Act (USA)
    -Three stage enforcement
    -Funds for state and local agencies
  • 1965 Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act (USA)
    -Emission regulations for cars to begin in 1968
  • 1967 Air Quality Act (USA)
    -Criteria documents
    -Control technique documents
  • 1970 Clean Air Act Amendments (USA)
    -National Ambient Air Quality Standards
    -New Source Performance Standards

Why study air pollution ?

  • Early 1900s The City of Chicago, Illinois passes an ordinance to reduce the “smoke” emitted by local factories.
  • 1940s Los Angeles, California becomes one of the first cities in the U.S. to experience severe air pollution problems then called “gas attacks.” L.A.’s location in a basin like area ringed by mountains makes it susceptible to accumulation of auto exhaust and emissions from local petroleum refineries
  • 1948 Air pollution kills in Donora, Pennsylvania. An unusual temperature inversion lasting six days blocks dispersal of emissions from zinc smelting and blast furnaces. Out of a total population of 14,000 people, 20 die, 600 others become ill, and 1400 seek medical attention.
  • 1950 A chemist at the California Institute of Technology proposes a theory of smog (or ozone) formation in which auto exhaust and sunlight play major roles.
  • 1954 An early public protest against air pollution takes place in East Greenville, Pennsylvania. Homemakers march on the town council to demand that a local casket manufacturer be required to stop polluting. Their complaint is that clean laundry hung out to dry became dirtier than before it was washed because of high levels of soot (or particulates) in the air.
  • 1962 Silent Spring is published. Rachel Carson’s powerful book draws the attention of the American public to the potential consequences of the increasing ability of human activities to significantly and even permanently alters the natural world.
  • 1966 In New York City, a three-day temperature inversion over Thanksgiving weekend is blamed for the deaths of 168 people.
  • 1969 Millions of Americans watch via satellite, as Neil Armstrong becomes the first person to walk on the moon. The same weekend, a very different news story startles the nation. Sulfur dioxide pollution emitted by industries near Gary, Indiana and East Chicago becomes potent acid rain that burns lawns, eats away tree leaves, and causes birds to lose their feathers.
  • 1969 A vivid color photographs of Earth from space, widely distributed, shifts human perceptions of our planet. The Earth no longer seems vast but is recognized as a small, fragile ball of life in the immense infinitude of cold, black space.
  • 1970 The first Earth Day becomes part of American history. Millions of students and citizens attend rallies to learn about environmental concerns and speak for environmental protection.
  • 1972 Representatives of 113 nations, gather on 5th June at a United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm to develop plans for international action to protect the world environment.
  • 1978 Rainfall in Wheeling, West Virginia is measured at a pH of 2, the most acidic yet recorded and 5000 times more acidic than normal rainfall.
  • 1981 Air pollution enters international politics when the Quebec Ministry of the Environment notifies the U.S. that 60 percent of the acid rain (sulfur dioxide pollution) damaging air and waters in Quebec, Canada comes from the U.S. industrial sources in the Midwestern and Northeastern U.S.
  • 1982 The National Center for Health Statistics releases a study indicating that four percent of all U.S. schoolchildren, including about 12 percent of all African-American preschoolers, have high levels of lead in their blood. About 675,000 children are at risk of kidney damage, brain damage, anemia, retardation, and other ills associated with lead poisoning. It is recognized that children absorb this lead by breathing air laden with lead pollution, primarily from leaded gasoline.
  • 1985 The U.S. EPA estimates 50,000 streams in the U.S. and Canada are dead or dying because of acid rain pollution.
  • 1986 The National Academy of Sciences reports that the burning of coal, gasoline, and other fossil fuels is definitely linked to acid rain and the death of trees, fish, and lake ecosystems in both the U.S. and Canada.
  • 1992 The Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is the most comprehensive international conference on the environment to date. Representatives from 188 countries and 35,000 participants attend. Two treaties are signed by all except the U.S. One, on global warming recommending curbing emissions of greenhouse gases. The second, on making inventories of plants and wildlife and strategies to protect endangered species.


Air Pollution Episodes
Period of poor air qulaity, upto several days, often extending over large geograpical area.

Winter: cold, stable weather conditions trap pollutants close to sources and prevent dispersion. Elavated concentrations of range of pollutants build up over several days

hot and sunny weather. Pollutants emitted within the U.K. or Europe transported long distances, reacting with each other in sunlight to produce high levels of ozone, & other photochemical pollutants.

Meuse Valley-Belgium, 1930

  • 63 died (mostly elderly)
  • Sore throats, shortness of breath, cough, phlegm, nausea, vomiting
  • SO2, sulfur dioxide
  • H2O
  • SO4 sulfuric acid mist
  • Cattle, birds and rats died
  • Got little news coverage


Fumigation of a valley floor caused by an inversion layer that restricts diffusion from a stack

Donora, Pennsylvania—Oct. 1948

  • Monongahela River Valley
  • Industrial town—steel mill, sulfuric acid plant, freight yard, etc.
  • Population—14,000
  • Steep hills surrounding the valley
  • Oct 26—temperature inversion (warm air trapping cold air near the ground)
  • Stable air, fog, lasted 4.5 days

Environs of Donora, Pennsylvania. Horseshoe curve of Monongahela River is surrounded by mountains. Railroad tracks are located on both sides of the river. Low-lying stretch of Monongahela valley between railroad and river is natural trap for pollutants.

Poza Rico, Mexico 1950

  • Single source– high sulfur crude oil
  • Hydrogen sulfide (H2S)
  • Flare went out
  • Inversion in valley
  • 22 sudden deaths, 320 hospitalized All ages
  • Forerunner of Bhopal

December 1952 Great London Smog

  • Cold front, Londoners burned soft coal
  • Factories, power plants
  • Temperature inversion
  • 5 days of worst smog city had ever seen Public transportation stopped
  • Indoor concerts had to be cancelled because no one could see the stage, etc.


Weekly death registered from diseases of the lungs and heart in the London Administrative County around the time of the severe fog in December, 1952.

Total death in Greater London and air pollutants levels measured during the fog of December 1952

Seveso, Italy --Dioxin

  • July 10, 1976, north of Milan
  • A valve broke at the Industrie Chimiche Meda Societa Azionaria chemical plant
  • Cloud of 2,3,7,8 tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin (TCDD) traveled southwest through Seveso toward Milan
  • Contaminant of herbicide

Bhopal, India Dec. 3, 1984

  • Union Carbide pesticide plant leak kills up to 2,000 with up to 350,000 injured and 100,000 with permanent disabilities
  • Methyl isocyanate (MIC)—used as an intermediary in manufacture of Sevin (Carbaryl)
  • CO + Cl = phosgene
  • Phosgene + methylamine = MIC
  • MIC—irritant to the lungs---edema, fluid (cause of death, bronchospasms, corneal opacity
  • Hydrogen cyanide?
  • Sabotage or industrial accident?

World-wide Air Pollution Episode

  • November 27-December 10, 1962
  • Thousands of excess deaths in many cities including NYC, London, Boston, Paris
  • New Orleans Oct-Nov 1958 asthma deaths.
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