Developing a Framework for Effective Air Quality Management

3.1 Introduction
Since recognizing the deteriorating air quality in urban areas, governments around the world have worked to developed air quality management programs designed to produce and maintain clean air. The efforts started in developed countries in earnest in the 1950s after the “London Killer Smog”, which took the lives of thousands of people in just a few days. The “Donora Air Pollution Emergency” in the 1950s killed hundreds of people in a matter of days in the United States and increased the emphasis on addressing air quality there. Some of the air quality programs begun in the 1950s have successfully reduced levels of air pollution. Unfortunately, programs in many locations have done little to improve air quality even after decades of effort. Clearly, regions seeking to effectively protect and improve their air quality are best advised to emulate those locations that have proved to be successful in reducing air pollution and to try to avoid the mistakes of those areas which have made little or no progress. However, it is important to distinguish the framework from the plan itself. While it is often advantageous to use a successful framework and apply it to a different area, it is not recommended to duplicate the plan itself used in one area for another. This can result in invalid assumptions on the importance of one source over the other and ineffective and costly reductions in emissions.

London, England was forced to address its air quality after the London killer smog and has made considerable progress in this respect since the 1950s. Los Angeles, California, as another example, started their program in the late 1940s and ultimately produced one of the more aggressive and successful clean air efforts in the world.

Actions to address air quality problems in developing countries did not begin typically until the 1970s and in many cases not until the early 1990s and even later. Sao Paulo, Brazil adopted air pollution control legislation in the mid-1970s. Mexico City, which may have had the worst air pollution in the world in the late 1980s, and Santiago, Chile, which had a significant air quality problem as well in the same timeframe, have implemented successful air quality management programs in their respective areas beginning in the late 1980s. Clearly, many developing countries are operating in a catch-up mode compared to developed countries and cannot be expected to solve air quality problems over night. It has taken places like Great Britain and the United States thirty-five years to achieve the air quality improvement visible today, and air quality continues to be unacceptable in many parts of both the United States and Great Britain. While developed countries took several decades to make significant progress, some developing countries have been able to make progress faster in their respective regions by building on the successes of the more developed countries. Mexico City and Santiago, Chile for example have made significant progress in a seventeen-year timeframe.

As a result of efforts in Great Britain, London meets most air quality standards and has been actively cleaning the soot from its ancient buildings that had become black from centuries of air pollution. Of course nothing can be done to address the damage to historical limestone and marble monuments due to acid fog and precipitation in Great Britain and elsewhere. The damage to historic monuments nor past health damage can be recovered reminding us of the need to address air pollution problems as quickly as is feasible. Ozone levels in Los Angeles have declined by 50% each decade since 1977 reducing measured levels by a total of 75%. Air pollution in Mexico City and Santiago has been cut about in half since 1990. Experiences from these regions will be used as examples of how an effective air quality management program can be established.

Air quality problems found today can be micro scale and impact only a few square kilometers to a few thousand square kilometers or they can be regional and cover multiple cities or states or even countries. Finally, they can be global and require concerted effort by many nations.

Reported lead exposure due to a lead smelter near Lima, Peru, or exposure to toxic chemicals by nearby residents from the dumping of waste into a lake in central California with potentially disastrous health results represent examples of micro scale exposure to pollution. The air pollution in Los Angeles that covers several counties, which make up about 20% of the area of California or the visibility problems in the western United States that covers many states represent examples of regional scale air pollution problems. Finally, the damage to the earth’s ozone shield and the global climate impacts that are now taking place present examples of the global impact of air pollution.

While air pollution problems can occur over many different scales or involve a range of different air pollutants and impacts, there are many similarities in the approach needed to address and reduce these problems. The following sections discuss the elements of effective air quality management programs that have made a difference in many urban and regional locations around the world.