Industrialization and
    air pollution

  Air Pollutants
  Clean Air Act
  State regulation
  Smog reduction
  Sulfur dioxide
  Carbon dioxide and
    global warming

Industrialization and
Air Polution
     History. America was predominantly a rural culture as the twentieth century began. Most Americans lived on farms and in small towns within 50 miles of their birthplaces. An industrial economy was about to uproot them. Yet to arrive were revolutionizing developments as radio, movies, the family car, and airplanes. Industrialization and urbanization on an unanticipated scale were on the horizon.

     Factories would be located in cities which became magnets for immigrant workers. Assembly lines and mass production of goods would offer urban jobs and cheaper products. Giant corporations were beginning to depersonalize working relationships, pressing children into work in mines, mills, and factories at cheap wages, squeezing out small businesses.

     These trends spawned the Progressive Era in which the Progressives improved social conditions in industrial urban society and conserved western wilderness. 

      For the first time thoughtful citizens focused on abating mounting air, water, noise, and refuse pollution.  This was accomplished at the municipal level through reform sometimes initiated by muckraking journalists.  Cities hired professional planners and others to address the problems. Smoke ordinances were enacted and passed court challenges.      

      Nuisance law was the order of the day.  As time passed, however, and industrial activity expanded enormously, the common-law nuisance approach of balancing risks and benefits case-by-case proved inadequate to the challenge.

     Sources and where. In West Virginia major air pollution sources are industries - chemical, power plants, and other manufacturers - and motor vehicles. These manufacturing plants and power plants are congregated in river valleys, where the stte's major cities are located.

     Along the Ohio River significant air pollution emissions originate from surrounding states and emigrate to West Virginia. The stench of Kanawha Valley chemical plants are an ever-present fact of life as are the heavy smells of steel mills in Weirton and Wheeling. Anyone who visited Henry Louis (Skip) Gates, Jr.'s hometown of Piedmont, when the pulp mill was going full blast, experienced an aroma that seemed to be everywhere. Across the Big Sandy River near Huntington winds from the west commonly bring a variety of odors and fallouts. "Snow" is what residents of "Chemical Valley" (Kanawha Valley) call the latter.      

      Acid rain (acidic rain) resulting from emissions of coal-fired power plants affects trees at higher elevations and makes its way into streams and rivers. The precursors of acid rain are nitric oxide and sulfur dioxide. [Acid rain is discussed in the Forests section of this web site.]

     A 2000 EPA computer modeling study of a couple of dozen toxic air pollutants in the state using 1996 data describes four sources of toxic pollutants: area (40%) - such as small businesses; on-road mobile (31%) - largely motor vehicles; major (17%) - large industries; and non-road mobile (12%). The most prevalent toxic emissions were benzene (30%), formaldehyde (29%), acetaldehyde (17%), 1,3- butadiene (6%), and methylene chloride (4%). Note: This study is less comprehensive than the annual Toxic Release Inventory (TRI).

     Ohio River Valley. Air pollution along the Ohio River is worse than on the East Coast, not in terms of peak exposures but through sustained exposure. "Power plants that line the Ohio River Valley create a blanket of smog that covers the region." So says a February 2000 report entitled "OhioValley Ozone Alley - Smog Pollution and Power Plants In The Ohio River Valley: What Can Be Done." OVEC was one of three sponsors of the report. Computer modeling showed that coal-fired power plants in the Ohio Valley are the major source of ozone in the valley.

    Mixing. In sections of West Virginia where a variety of manufacturing plants exist, multiple emissions into the air mix and interact, forming new compounds. This is a common occurrence in areas bordering the Ohio River where intrastate regulation has its limitations. Determining point sources of emissions in an interstate setting is challenging, to say the least.

Last updated on Saturday, March 24, 2001