Air pollution occurs when chemicals, biological materials, airborne particles, dirt, dust, smoke and other materials are introduced into the atmosphere. Some pollutants get into the air of through natural processes – like forest fires, dust storms or, surprisingly, from livestock. Most of the air pollution in the U.S. - and the rest of the world- is human caused. We burn fossil fuels: oil, coal and, natural gas for heat - gasoline for our vehicles.
The largest source of air pollution in the United States is transportation: carbon monoxide in the form of exhaust comes from our cars, buses, trucks and other vehicles and aircraft. Engine exhaust accounts for 60 percent of the air pollution nationwide, and up to 95 percent of the pollution in some of our larger cities. Other sources of pollution are:
Recently, forest fires have been one of the largest contributors of air pollution in the United States. The latest wildfires in California send a ton of gasses into the air. And, as climate change helps create higher temperatures and dryer conditions, more and more wildfires will lead to more and more air pollution.
Large metropolitan cities have the worst the air pollution in the United States. Generally it is the large amount of traffic and industry which create the pollution. However, geography can play a role in the levels of pollution and contaminates that are trapped in a metropolitan area.
California has the most cities with high levels of air pollution. Despite strict emission control measures, there are just too many cars and not enough trees to filter all the carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, California has the honor (if you can call it that) of having the most polluted cities in the United States. Here’s the short list:
Other cities with poor air quality are:
It should be noted that in the winter, many cities on the East Coast have significantly higher levels of air pollution. This is because the pollutants cannot escape the moisture and ice in the clouds, so it just hangs around and makes nasty, hazardous air. And in many cities in Alaska, exhaust from vehicles and other pollutants actually form a harmful layer of pollution near the ground: people actually walk through it.
In 1963, the Clean Air Act was enacted to try to address air pollution, set emission standards for automobiles, establish pollution controls on emissions from factories, and to prohibit certain chemicals and volatile compounds from being used in the United States. The EPA, (Environmental Protection Agency) which monitors the Clean Air Act and addresses air quality and other types of environmental issues made significant amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990.
While significant progress has been made to improve air quality standards, the current administration has stripped or removed most of the protections and significant provisions of the Clean Air Act. The Trump administration has also pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement and has reversed at least 26 other laws and regulations which deal with air pollution and environmental protections.
The State of California has some of the strictest pollution and emissions control laws in the United States. California, Oregon and Washington (State) - along with other states, - have all pledged their continued support of the Paris Climate Agreement. As individuals, we can do our part to reduce air pollution.
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