Yesterday, the American Lung Association released its annual “State of the Air” report. The report contained some depressing information on the quality of air in this country. In the wealthiest country in the history of the human race, 47% of people – 147.6 million individuals – live in areas that fail to meet standards for ozone or particulate matter pollution.
Cleveland ranks among the 25 dirtiest cities for both ozone pollution and year-round particulate matter pollution. The report makes it clear – we have a lot of work to do in order to guarantee Americans their right to a healthy environment. That’s what makes victories like the Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule so incredibly significant.
But the report also shows how far we have come as a country since the bad old days before the Clean Air Act. While the economy has grown by 219%, vehicle miles traveled has jumped by 165%, and population has increased by 53% since the act was passed in 1970, emissions for the six key criteria pollutants has fallen by 72%. Clearly we can, and have, decouple air pollution from economic growth, despite the apoplectic protestations from industry pollution proponents.
I know that I have decried the public health menace that is air pollution in Cleveland on multiple occasions – and I’m not about to stop until we really tackle the issue head on – but it is useful to put the problem in its proper perspective. The air has gotten a whole hell of a lot cleaner, even if we still don’t meet ozone or PM 2.5 standards. As the report notes, Cuyahoga County endured 6.4 fewer ozone action days in 2012 as in 1996, and annual PM 2.5 levels have dropped by 6.1 µg/m3 since 2000.
To that end, here are some pictures from Cleveland’s past that show just how far we have come.