We’ve come a long way baby…

Celebrating 50 years of the Clean Air Act

A collage of an old coal locomotive going by a brush burn and smokey chimney

It’s an exciting year for Washington. We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Washington Clean Air Act! 

Since its inception, the act has helped protect human health, the environment, and serves as the basis for state and local air pollution rules. The Washington Clean Air Act allowed the state to appoint and authorize local clean air agencies to regulate air pollution.

Before Ecology and the local clean air agencies were formed, the state was dealing with dense smoke, flying rocks and mud, and large particulate matter coming out of smokestacks from industrial facilities. Air pollution was so bad it created visibility hazards on the roads and foul odors in cities of all sizes. 

50 year Washington Clean Air Act logo

“Imagine hanging your white sheets outside to dry and coming home to find them covered in mud droplets, or your car covered in soot,” said longtime Environmental Engineer, Alan Newman. 

Industry had old inefficient boilers that would spit out harmful, black, carbon-filled smoke. Factories and other industrial facilities had limited or nonexistent emission control technology and the regulations weren’t in place to ensure clean air. 

Newman explained how sulfur dioxide was released directly into the air from agriculture dehydration facilities and how exposure to the chemicals would turn green vegetables white. Luckily, in the early 1980s industries upgraded their equipment so the chemicals were no longer released into the air.

Newman saw firsthand how air pollution was affecting communities. He was there. It was significant enough that people throughout the entire country took notice of air quality. They grew weary of these problems and reached out to the federal government and their legislators for help.

Ironically, immense smoke from a slash burn found its way through an open window during a legislative meeting in Olympia, Washington. This dramatic event demonstrated just how serious air quality issues were and prompted the legislators to take action. As a result of citizen concerns, and their own experience with the smoke, Ecology was created in 1970.

What causes air pollution?

Air pollution is caused from a variety of sources that we all contribute to. Some of the sources are: 

Historic Seattle with so much air pollution you can barely see the skyline.

  • Emissions from vehicles, ships, trains, and airplanes
  • Emissions from construction equipment
  • Campfires, forest fires, and agricultural burning
  • Cooking, BBQ, and wood-burning stoves
  • Solvent-based cleaning supplies
  • Blowing dust, soot, ash, etc.
  • Commercial and industrial facilities like factories, restaurants, and dry cleaners

Sending the air pollution message

Sharing the importance of healthy air is a priority Ecology and local clean air agencies have in common. The anniversary is a great opportunity to learn about why protecting air is important.