The Clean Air Act was enacted in 1970 and amended in 1990. The law is the driving legislation for improving air quality in the United States. According to National Geographic, air pollutants from vehicles make up 50% of the air pollution in America. While the national rate for air pollution from automobiles has been significantly reduced over the past three decades, the rate in many urban areas is still well above the EPA’s acceptable rate, notably in California and the northeast. The lowest rates are found in the southwestern US.
The American Lung Association‘s 2013 “State of the Air” report noted that 40%, 131 million people, live in counties with unhealthy air quality rates. Vehicle annual and biennial smog testing programs comply with the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments and are in force and administered by 40 states. Eight of the remaining states have some form of vehicle emissions testing program in place and two states have been granted a waiver by the government. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspects new cars at factories.
Defining Smog in Vehicles
Most of the smog from vehicles is caused by engines burning gas. The two major smog ingredients are nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbon gases. These gases can be significantly reduced by ensuring that vehicles burn gas efficiently. That is the whole point of conducting periodic auto emissions inspections. As an example, California reports that its vehicle inspection program removes an estimated 400 tons of smog from the air every day. Another statistic shows that one-third of the world’s carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide is released in the US.
Smog and Automobiles
America is a nation of automobile drivers. Statistics reveal that there are 752 cars on the road for every 1,000 people in the US. At the same time, 2010 emissions data shows that in 2010, cars were 20 times cleaner than in 1990. Another way of viewing this change is described in the “State of the Air Report” and graphically show that while miles driven in the US over the past years has increased 167% and population has increased by 52%, aggregate auto emissions have been reduced by 68%.
Smog and Health
Health and smog are inexorably linked. Carbon dioxide emissions alone are estimated to be one million tons per day. One MIT study found that 53,000 people die every year from “road transportation,” which includes air pollutants from vehicles. Air pollution causes and aggravates respiratory and lung illnesses, notably asthma. Smog has also been linked to worn tire particles that can make up as much as 5-7% of pollution in the air and contribute to lung problems. ADHD in children is even suspected to be linked to air pollution.
Ozone is another air pollution byproduct of auto exhaust. Both ground and atmospheric ozone affect health, including skin, lung and lung lining illnesses.
The Future’s Solutions
The reduction of smog from automobile emissions has been significant over the past 23 years. State administered testing for vehicle pollutants has had a profound effect on the atmosphere. The EPA has proposed new amendments to the existing Clean Air Act law that would raise acceptable pollutant levels by up to 80%. The EPA estimates that the amended law would reduce health benefit expenditures for illnesses related to air pollution by $8 billion to $23 billion per year by 2030.
Increasing the standards for state auto emissions inspections and enforcing these standards at state inspection stations will also have a positive effect on air quality and should continue to be the first point of reducing vehicle smog. The EPA’s efforts to monitor new car compliance with the law is another important point of inspection.