Editorial. Air pollution and health - Environmental Science

Publication Date: February 1970. ACS Legacy Archive. Cite this:Environ. Sci. Technol. ... Environmental Science & Technology. Middleton. 1970 4 (2), p...
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Air pollution and health The right to breathe clean air may have to be established before air pollution control can really begin in earnest


t is an unfortunate-but nevertheless accurate-characteristic of such industrialized societies as ours that the richest areas usually are the dirtiest. The old Yorkshire saying “Where there’s muck, there’s brass” puts it quite succinctly, if smugly. Even today, industrial managers in America sometimes smilingly refer to the acrid stench from their profitable plants as “the smell of money.” As a society, we somehow have become convinced that dirty air is an unavoidable adjunct to a booming industrial economy. In the most industrialized and prosperous parts of the world, there can be little argument that the local air is dangerous to breathe. In the U.S., we have the laughable situation in which local health officials in several urban regions seriously doubt whether the air quality standards adopted for those regions can be met. In all cases, these standards were adopted on the basis of health criteria published by the federal government. In other words, responsible officials are saying quite soberly that public health is likely to suffer because industry cannot or will not reduce its emissions to the required extent. One might usefully challenge the assumption that less than good health is the price that must be paid for the benefit of living in a prosperous society. Are we really faced with a choice between being poor but healthy or being rich but unhealthy? Many experts do not think so. More important, it is becoming increasingly evident that people are no longer willing to tolerate, as they have for so long, an assault on their lungs, even though mounted in the name of prosperity.

The public has shown much increased interest in air pollution, especially air pollution regulations. In one state, air quality standards had to be revised and made more stringent because of public pressure. This close interest is likely to continue and even intensify, and industrialists would do well to take it seriously, because, one day soon, they will be forced to take action. One hundred years ago, workers were resigned to the most dreadful working conditionsthey had no choice but to be so. In this century, however, legislation has established the right of the worker to a reasonably safe and healthful working environment. In retrospect, providing workers with a safe place to work does not seem to have put industry out of business, any more than paid vacations have, although there were, doubtless, many forebodings of doom when concessions first were made to employees. What may be looming ahead very soon is the establishment of the right of workers (and thus of all the people) to inhabit a safe and healthful living environment away from work. Perhaps, only when this right is established will air pollution control begin in earnest. Certainly, control will cost lots of money-EsaT has repeatedly emphasized that fact. But the benefits of good health for all the peoplein urban as well as in rural areas-are important enough to make the effort worthwhile.

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Volume 4, Number 2, February 1970 87