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Breathe better this December

The Clean Air ActWhen: December 17th

What: As one of the biggest and hardest to control environmental problems in the U.S., air pollution can cross state lines, contaminate protected waters, and trigger life-threatening asthma attacks. It can kill trees just as easily as it can destroy buildings and statues. Pollution proved to be a serious danger in the 1940s and 50s, when pollution clouds in Donora, Pa., and London were found to have caused illness and death among thousands of people. Recognizing the serious threat that pollution posed to public health, Congress passed the first Clean Air Act on Dec. 17, 1963, to further the understanding and prevention of air pollution. On its anniversary this December, work to combat air pollution and prevent the serious health risks it causes.

Background: The Clean Air Act was originally passed by Congress on Dec. 17, 1963, and allowed for the study and cleanup of air pollution. The act was significantly strengthened in 1970, when it was extended to give the Environmental Protection Agency the ability to create and enforce regulations to protect citizens from dangerous air pollutants. However, it is up to states to comply with the act’s regulations. In addition, the act was amended in 1966 and 1990 in order to address concerns such as acid rain, automotive emissions and fuel, smog, and ozone depletion. Environmental groups, states and citizens can also use violations of the act to bring forth lawsuits, keeping the law regularly in the news.

Story Pitch: As the Clean Air Act is ultimately in place to protect public health, hospitals and local health organizations can use the anniversary to talk to the public about the dangers of air pollution and what precautions can be taken. Environmental groups should educate the public on their cause and explain how air contaminants affect the areas they work to protect. They can also share how state and local governments are carrying out enforcement of the act. Local businesses that closely follow regulations spurred by the act, such as mechanics and gas stations, can promote their environmentally conscious automotive maintenance and fluid disposal methods.

Story Hook: Air quality has a major impact on respiratory health, and asthma sufferers are especially vulnerable to air pollutants, such as smog and car exhaust. Asthma rates have more than doubled in the last 15 years, and the chronic disease is becoming increasingly common in areas with poor air quality. How can asthmatics limit their exposure to the pollutants that trigger attacks? What local measures, such as ozone-advisory days or indoor smoking bans, have helped keep sufferers safe? Consider the following when making your pitch:

  • What are the most common kinds of air pollutants? What are their major sources?
  • How can those sensitive to poor air quality monitor pollution levels?
  • Pollutants in the air can cause serious damage to crops and buildings. What is the economic impact of air pollution?
  • Aside from respiratory conditions, how can air pollution make someone sick?

Tips: Provide contact information for a representative of a local environment group who can discuss why citizens should be concerned about their local air quality. Additionally, someone who deals with environmentally triggered asthma can talk about how air pollution affects their daily life.


Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
(800) 727-8462

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
–Air Pollution & Respiratory Health


Environmental Defense Fund
(212) 505-2100

United States Environmental Protection Agency

–Researched, compiled & written by Kristina Elliott
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