History of Smog


First recognized episodes of smog occur in Los Angeles, though it takes a few years for scientists to figure out that cars are the culprit. For now, a chemical plant is suspected as the cause of the brown hue in the San Fernando Valley skies. In October, county supervisors appoint a Smoke and Fumes Commission to study the dense smoke.

California Governor Earl Warren signs a law setting up an Air Pollution Control District in L.A. County.

Caltech chemistry professor Arie Haagen-Smit
discovers the source of ozone, that bleaching-
solution odor, and the nature and causes of photochemical smog.

Workers at L.A. County Air Pollution Control District expose their eyes to smog, while others hold stopwatches, to see how long it takes for tears to stream down their faces.

APCD executive officer S. Smith Griswold develops bronchitis after voluntarily breathing in extremely high levels of ozone in a Plexiglas chamber.

Survey of doctors by the L.A. County Medical Association finds that 94.7 percent recognize the “smog complex” — irritated eyes and respiratory tract, chest pains, cough, nausea and headache.

The nation’s last recorded Stage Three smog alert occurs in Upland. Ozone levels hit .51 parts per million. Gov. Ronald Reagan urges residents to “limit all but absolutely necessary auto travel” and recommends that people drive slower to reduce

The California Smog Check program goes into effect to identify vehicles in need of maintenance and to assure the effectiveness of their emissions-control systems.

Lung autopsies on more than 1,100 young people who died in accidents or were victims of homicide find that 27 percent had severely damaged lungs.

AQMD establishes a landmark rideshare program requiring companies employing at least 100 people to offer incentives to workers to carpool or use public transit. Employers complain that it shouldn’t be their job to change workers’ driving behavior, and the project goes away in a few years.

Some 2,500 restaurants using char-broilers must outfit exhaust heads with devices to collect reactive organic gases and particles.

In response to a lawsuit filed by the Coalition for Clean Air, the AQMD submits the first plan that shows L.A.’s air can be cleaned up. It calls
for wide use of electric vehicles, public transit, carpooling, renewable energy and development of non-polluting consumer goods and factories. The agency goes on to adopt the standards in the years ahead under the direction of its executive officer James Lents. Air quality improves.

President George Bush signs into law the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, which echo the state’s Clean Air Act, requiring new programs aimed at curbing ozone, acid rain and toxic air pollutants and establishing a uniform national-permit system.

Bowing to pressure to do its part to revive the sluggish economy, the AQMD approves a program that allows major polluters to trade emission credits among themselves. The program, dubbed RECLAIM, proves ineffective and feeds the agency’s soft-on-the-bad-guys reputation that continues to this day.

Some 58 bills are introduced in Sacramento that would exert control over the AQMD and state Air Resources Board and make them more business-friendly.

An AQMD study finds that diesel particulate matter accounts for 70 percent of the state’s cancer risk from airborne particles.

Nine AQMD science advisers quit in protest of the agency’s coddling of big business.

AQMD executive director James Lents is fired amid a growing business backlash to air-quality regulations.

Big Seven automakers commit to making zero-emissions vehicles, and General Motors rolls out the EV-1.

No Stage One smog alerts this year, compared to 42 days in 1990, when people with respiratory problems were urged to stay indoors.

USC scientists studying the health of 1,759 children over an eight-year period find that teenagers who live in smoggy conditions are nearly five times as likely to have clinically low lung function.

Rates of childhood asthma are as high as 14 percent in the smoggiest areas. Hardest hit are communities of color, with up to one in four African American and Latino children developing asthma. The national average is 10 percent.

Some 34,000 trucks and 16 ships arrive daily at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, producing more than a third of the region’s air pollution. Traffic is expected to quadruple in 20 years.

Automakers go to court and effectively eliminate the state’s zero-emissions vehicle standards.

Statewide, 9,600 people die every year from air-pollution-caused ailments. Each year, 3,200 die in car crashes, and 2,000 are victims of homicide.


(Source: AQMD and news reports)

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