National Geographic : 1970 Dec
(Continuedfrom page 739) breathing now in Washington, D. C., may contain sulphur from a Pittsburgh steel mill and carbon monoxide from a Chicago taxi, for this continent's weather patterns often send a river of polluted air flowing southeast ward. Someone in Norfolk, Virginia, will be using this air again when I am finished with it. Automobiles, factories, heating furnaces, power plants, trash incinerators-each adds to the problem, so control is difficult. Com pounding that difficulty has been the diversity of agencies responsible for control. Until the President this year established a new Envi ronmental Protection Agency, air-pollution control came chiefly under the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, water pollution under the Department of the In terior, and land pollution under the Depart ments of Agriculture, HEW, and Interior. Now virtually all pollution control is to be directed by one federal agency. But it will still be a complex problem, with much re sponsibility devolving upon state, county, and municipal governments. The National Air Pollution Control Ad ministration is in the process of dividing most of the country into air-quality control regions. When such a region is designated, states fall ing within it have about 15 months (450 days) to set air-quality standards that meet federal requirements, and to begin putting them into effect. National standards have already been established to control automotive pollution. Hard Choice Faces Many Communities Most states today are ill equipped to moni tor the thousands of air-pollution sources within their borders. And, because corrective measures can be tremendously expensive, years may pass before a factory stops spout ing black smoke. If a plant has polluted the air for fifty years, and is operating on a close budget-can we, in good conscience, make demands that will drive it into bankruptcy? On the other hand, can we afford to risk our health by continuing to breathe the smoke? Valley towns, especially, can be smog traps. Missoula, Montana, is such a town. When a layer of stable lifeless air hovers overhead, it holds industrial haze and dust in the valley and gives Missoula an air-pollution intensity that rivals New York City's (pages 756-7). And, of course, there is Los Angeles. "Smog City, U.S.A.," some call it (following pages). But the Angelenos have tackled their prob lem head on. Air-pollution regulations there are broader than those the Federal Govern ment has formulated, and the regulations grow tougher year by year. Still, new residents pour into the city, bringing their automobiles. Los Angeles, like the Ruhr, is just managing to keep its smog density from rising. If Los Angeles can't live without its auto mobiles and can't live with them, what is the solution? Electric cars? I asked the question of Ralph K. Longaker, regional air-pollution control director. "The electric companies would love that," he replied. "Their lowest demand for power is at night-and that, of course, would be the time when people would be recharging all those electric-car batteries. But there would be such a tremendous increase in electric power requirements that many more gener ating plants would have to be built. Would all those power plants be less harmful to the environment than automobiles? At this point, we just don't know." Killer Fogs Led to London's Air Cleanup Twenty years ago London could have claimed the title "Smog City, Europe." Three fourths of its smoke is gone now-a remark able change triggered by a series of killer fogs in the late 1940's and early 1950's (page 778). The worst of these settled over London on December 5, 1952. For four consecutive days the city's normal daily death rate of 300 more than tripled; in all, some 4,000 extra deaths that winter were blamed on the inci dent. More such fogs came in the winters that followed. Each took its toll. In 1956 Parliament passed the Clean Air Act, decreeing that factories and homes in critical areas of the city must switch from soft high-sulphur coal to less smoky fuels: hard coal, gas, electricity, or oil. Inevitably there were economic repercussions, both to house holders and to industries. But, with each pass ing year, London's air grew clearer. I visited the city last spring and found it a spirit-lifting experience after passing through so many smog-blanketed cities. In St. James's Park, deck chairs were filled with tanning Londoners (pages 778-9). London has proved that the veil of smog can be cast off, but its success story stands almost alone. In sunny Spain, Madrid has joined the ranks of shrouded cities. In Italy, acid from smog eats into centuries-old sculp ture (page 752). And each rain here in Wash ington washes more acid onto our marble buildings and monuments.