Smog It can be said that it all started on a warm autumn's day in 1943. As the sun rose in the city of Los Angeles, a yellowish-brown haze could be seen to be lingering over the city. It seemed, at first, to be nothing extraordinary. Yet, on this particular day, people were to soon find out that it was the beginning of a new awareness that would subsequently set the stage for several environmental policies.

Sixty years ago, most people would not have heard of the word smog before. Coined in 1905, the term smog-a combination of the words smoke and fog-was originally used to describe the cloud of noxious fumes that arose from the chimneys and smokestacks of Britain's factories (Urbinato). As a consequence of the increasing use of coal for heating and energy and the growing populations in cities-brought about by the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s-a foul smelling sulfur dioxide air was created. Lasting several days, and sometimes weeks, the smog often returned to haunt those in England once again. As it turned out, this smog was to become a persistent problem in England that was ignored up until a century later.

Car Exhaust In Los Angeles, the situation was somewhat different. Smog was characterized by smaller amounts of carbon particles and sulfur dioxide than that found in England (Lewis 73). Moreover, it was only present in the early mornings of warm, dry days, as it usually vanquished in the late-afternoons (ibid.). Like England, industries, businesses, and urban planners all contributed to the worsening of air quality in Los Angeles. However, in 1951, Dr. Arie Ha”gen-Smit of Cal. Tech. discovered that the root cause of air pollution in Los Angeles was in fact due to emissions from 9 million motor vehicles (Elsom 173; Davies 33). As a result, the concept of photochemical smog emerged.

It is said that almost all pollution control programs emerge as a result of increasing public concern and awareness. Nothing seems to be farther from the truth. In England, the precedent of the current Clean Air Act arose in 1956 only after a 1952 five-day smog siege in London-in which 4,000 lives were taken (Urbinato). The act improved air quality somewhat by requiring the implementation of cleaner coal burning practices, but it only offered a temporary and moderate abatement on future occurrences.

In Los Angeles, prewar public objections against air pollution from wartime industrial plants led California to pass a law in 1947 that initiated the creation of several air-pollution control districts throughout the state (Davies 33; Lewis 74). Subsequently, Los Angeles formed its own control district, which immediately went to work in placing restrictions and controls on various sources of pollution-namely oil refineries, factories, and backyard incinerators (Lewis 74). With the large amounts of complaints made on that autumn's day in 1943, the Los Angeles County Air Pollution Control District expanded its role to conduct a long-term research program aimed to determine the cause of the mysterious eye-irritating smog and its effects on the Los Angeles atmosphere (ibid.). When it was discovered that several chemical byproducts from car emissions were the culprit, the Federal government stepped in with the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955-the first of a few official regulations over air quality-and other policies including emission standards on newly manufactured automobiles (Davies 33).

Traffic Today, sixty years later, Americans enjoy significantly cleaner air and, perhaps, are less familiar with smog sieges. Yet the hazards of several odorless and invisible components of photochemical smog are all but eliminated-threatening to one day reemerge as an even larger health crisis.

The England and Los Angeles cases highlight several crucial policy implications in air quality control, as well as the importance of early prevention. This project aims to provide an economic perspective and analysis on the topic of smog. In doing so, it will attempt to address some policy implications as well as offer some suggestions on preventative measures and other alternative courses of action. For this purpose, and for the purpose of facilitating the reading process for the reader, we have divided the project into several sections, which can be read in whichever order desired:

  • Background - This section provides some background information on the composition and formation of industrial and photochemical smog, as well as a closer look at the concerns over anthropogenic pollution.
  • Externality - This section takes on the task of describing smog as a form of economic externality through a health, agricultural and forestry, material and aesthetics, and environmental aspect.
  • Policy - This section examines some policy implications related to smog.
  • Future Outlook - This section concludes with some simple things you can do to help abate smog.
This project was designed to allow the reader to skip around within the different sections. For a reader who is more experienced in a particular area or who does not wish to pursue a given topic, a section can be simply bypassed or referred to later. Just by simply clicking on one of the tablets of interest on the top of the page, all information in that particular section will be displayed. In some cases, the section is further subdivided into several headings. Any headings within a particular section will appear right below the tablets and can be used to jump to that particular heading within the page. Thus, easy reference to any section or heading within a section can be found at the top of the page.

So without much further ado, we will now continue our journey through All That Smog.

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 © 2002 Felicia Su | All Rights Reserved
Works Cited
Pictures courtesy of Corbis, EyeWire, FPG International, Hulton|Archive, Illustration Works, The Image Bank, National Geographic, PhotoDisc, Stone, and Toyota