History of Air Quality

The most serious air pollution our region experienced was during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Our towns and cities grew as the industrial machine needed more and more workers for the factories.

The burning of coal in homes and factories caused urban air pollution to climb to extremely unhealthy levels. During foggy conditions, pollution levels escalated and urban smogs (smoke and fog) were formed. These smogs often brought South Yorkshire’s life to a halt, keeping people indoors, making even summer days dark, disrupting traffic but more dangerously causing death rates to dramatically rise. The effects of this pollution on buildings and vegetation also became obvious.

Up until the Great London Smog of 1952, legislation to clean up the air had been largely ineffectual. The Great London Smog, which resulted in around 4,000 extra deaths in the capital, galvanized public opinion and led to the introduction of the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968. These introduced smokeless zones in urban areas, with a tall chimney policy to help disperse industrial air pollutants away from built up areas into the atmosphere.

Following the Clean Air Acts, air quality improvements continued throughout the 1970s and further regulations were required through the 1974 Control of Air Pollution Act. This included regulations for the composition of motor fuel and limits for the sulphur content of industrial fuel oil.

However, during the 1980s the number of motor vehicles in the UK steadily increased and air quality problems associated with motor vehicles became more prevalent. In the early 1980s, the main interest was the effects of lead pollution on human health, but by the late 1980s and early 1990s, the effects of other motor vehicle pollutants became a major concern.

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