EPA’s Clean Air Act Turns 40

Sept. 17, 2010
As part of the activities commemorating EPA’s 40th anniversary, the agency is highlighting progress made under the 40 years of the Clean Air Act (CAA) at a conference in Washington, D.C.

“For 40 years the Clean Air Act has protected our health and our environment, saving lives and sparking new innovations to make our economy cleaner and stronger. The common sense application of the act has made it one of the most cost-effective things the American people have done for themselves in the last half century,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Since 1970 we have seen a steady trajectory of less pollution in our communities and greater economic opportunity throughout our nation. We will continue those trends as we face the clean air challenges of the next 40 years, including working to cut greenhouse gases and grow the American clean energy economy. The Clean Air Act proves the naysayers wrong – we can protect our health and environment at the same time we grow our economy.”

The Clean Air Act has had significant health benefits, especially for children.

According to an EPA analysis, the first 20 years of Clean Air Act programs, from 1970 to 1990, prevented:

· 205,000 premature deaths
· 672,000 cases of chronic bronchitis
· 21,000 cases of heart disease
· 843,000 asthma attacks
· 10.4 million lost I.Q. points in children – mostly from reducing lead in gasoline
· 18 million child respiratory illnesses

The act improved air quality and public health, according to EPA, and in 1990, the act was revised with overwhelming bipartisan support. From 1990 through 2008, emissions of six common pollutants are down 41 percent, while gross domestic product has grown 64 percent. Lead levels in the air are 92 percent lower than in 1980, greatly reducing the number of children with IQs below 70 as a result of dirty air.

Preliminary EPA analysis shows that in 2010, CAA fine particles and ozone programs will prevent more than 160,000 premature deaths. The economic value of air quality improvements is estimated to reach almost $2 trillion for the year 2020, a value that exceeds the costs to comply with the 1990 Clean Air Act and related programs.

New cars, light trucks and heavy-duty diesel engines are up to 95 percent cleaner than past models thanks to technology such as the catalytic converter. New non-road engines used in construction and agriculture have 90 percent less particle pollution and nitrogen oxide emissions than previous models. When fully implemented in 2030, vehicle and fuel programs will produce $186 billion in air quality and health benefits, with only $11 billion in costs, a nearly 16-to-1 benefit/cost ratio.

The acid rain program has reduced damage to water quality in lakes and streams, and improved the health of ecosystems and forests. Acid deposition has decreased by more than 30 percent in much of the Midwest and Northeast since 1990 under a cap-and-trade program for power plants.

Reductions in fine particle levels yielded benefits including the avoidance of about 20,000 to 50,000 premature deaths annually. The benefits of the acid rain program outweigh the costs by at least 40-to-1.

Since 1990, toxic emissions have been reduced from industry by 1.7 million tons a year -- many times the reductions achieved in the first 20 years of the CAA. The air toxics rules for chemical plants, oil refineries, aerospace manufacturing and other industries also are achieving large reductions in pollutants that form smog and particulates. Monitoring networks are extensive enough to determine that outdoor air concentrations of benzene, a carcinogen, decreased 55 percent between 1994 and 2007.

The Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 require that EPA develop and implement regulations for the responsible management of ozone-depleting substances in the United States to help restore the ozone layer. The phase-out of the most harmful ozone-depleting chemicals, including CFC and halons will reduce U.S. incidences of non-melanoma skin cancer by 295 million during the period 1989 through 2075, as well as protect people from immune system suppression and eye damage leading to cataracts.

View the archived webcast at http://www.epa.gov/live.

More information on the Clean Air Act, visit http://epa.gov/oar/caa/40th.html.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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