NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 11, 2006

Air pollution has been declining for decades across the United States, yet most Americans still believe it is a growing problem and a serious threat to their health.  The reason: most information on air pollution from environmentalists, regulators and journalists -- the public's main sources for information on the environment -- is false.  Air quality in America's cities is better than ever, says Joel Schwartz, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Between 1980 and 2005:

  • Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) declined 40 percent.
  • Peak 8-hour ozone (O3) levels declined 20 percent, and days per year exceeding the 8-hour ozone standard fell 79 percent.
  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels decreased 37 percent, sulfur dioxide (SO2) dropped 63 percent and carbon monoxide (CO) concentrations were reduced by 74 percent.
  • Lead dropped 96 percent.

What makes these air quality improvements so extraordinary is that they occurred during a period of increasing motor vehicle use, energy production and economic growth, says Schwartz.

Between 1980 and 2005:

  • Automobile miles driven each year nearly doubled (93 percent) and diesel truck miles more than doubled (112 percent);
  • Tons of coal burned for electricity production increased about 61 percent; and
  • The real dollar value of goods and services (gross domestic product or GDP) more than doubled (114 percent). 

Air pollution of all kinds declined sharply because of cleaner motor vehicles, power plants, factories, home appliances and consumer products, explains Schwartz.

Air pollution affects far fewer people, far less often and with far less severity than regulators, environmentalists, health scientists and journalists have led Americans to believe.  By pursuing tiny or nonexistent health benefits at great cost, air pollution regulations are making us worse off, says Schwartz.

Source: Joel Schwartz, "Facts Not Fear on Air Pollution: How Regulators, Environmentalists and Scientists Exaggerate the Level and Health Risks of Air Pollution and Impose Counterproductive Regulations," National Center for Policy Analysis, Policy Report No. 294, December 2006.

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