We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby


Fifty years ago, cars everywhere created an enormous amount of smog. Today, we are a little bit wiser, so our cars are 90 percent cleaner with catalytic converters and cleaner burning gasoline. However, that 90 percent improvement did not amount to an improvement in our air quality in the U.S., thanks to long commutes and the advent of gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles.

In Los Angeles, smog (also known as ozone) is still a problem even though its cars are technically among the cleanest in the country. This is because of the perfect storm created by the environment and winds in L.A. When hot air, sunlight, lots of cars, and a lack of rainfall combine, you get heavy smog that barely moves.

By the 1940s and 1950s, L.A. residents could not afford to stick their head in the sand as the air grew increasingly murky. Non-smokers had lung problems from all the air pollution, and area farmers had harvests ruined, thanks to the sub-par air quality. Some citizens can still remember the serious eye burning and irritation that they experienced in L.A. in the heavy smog of the forties.

As early as the 1900s, there was evidence of smog issues in L.A. with visibility problems from industrial smoke. By the time the population and cars had grown exponentially in the early 1940s, visibility was so poor that pilots had trouble flying in to the area.

With all the protests and grassroots activism, the government was forced to take action.

By 1975, California required all new vehicles to have catalytic converters, and the catalytic converter is credited as the reason L.A. residents can breathe today. Car manufacturers had originally protested catalysts because of the expense, but when industrial companies are pushed to meet regulations, they find a way to meet the expectations.

Studies have shown that half of the smog problem in L.A. is due to car emissions. Because of Interstate 101 and traffic jams, L.A. is bound to have smog issues. The California Bureau of Automotive Repair runs the Smog Check program, which ensures that pollution control equipment is operating correctly on vehicles. There’s even a phone number to call to report gross polluters at 1-800-CUT-SMOG.

Smog Check has helped ensure that 400 tons of pollutants are removed every single day from the air in California, such as hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide. The emission standards are strict to ensure that residents and visitors will be able to see and breathe for years to come.









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