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Air Quality Awareness Week, Bike to Work Day, and More in May

It’s Air Quality Awareness Week! In the midst of treading and pedaling our way to more breathable air this week, here’s a reminder of how far we’ve come, and what is left to do.

The original draft of the Clean Air Act was signed into law in 1963, with important amendments to expand its influence enacted in 1970, 1977 and 1990. According to the EPA’s summary, it is a comprehensive federal law that regulates air emissions from stationary (e.g. factories) and mobile (e.g. vehicles) sources. It’s what gives the EPA the authority to establish and enforce air quality standards across the U.S. When the original law was passed in 1963, air quality in many cities and states was suffering. In the years leading up to the birth of the modern environmental movement, Pittsburgh regularly had to keep street lights on through the day to guide drivers and pedestrians through the thickly polluted air. Check out these photos of the city before it enacted smoke controls in the 40s.

Then take L.A. Along with many southern California cities, Los Angeles is consistently found on “U.S. Cities with Worst Air Pollution” lists these days. Yet, as of 2012, the city’s pollution from car exhaust was down 98% since the enaction of the Clean Air Act in the 1960s. That sounds great, right!? Well… If a major source of L.A.’s air pollution is down 98% and its air quality is still ranked among the worst in the country, then imagine how bad it must have been in 1963.

Pittsburgh and L.A. might be extreme examples, but they show the reality of what is possible when people, communities and governments work together to understand and combat the heavy costs of poor air quality.

Over time, we’ve made progress in expanding education and action to improve air quality, but there is still a lot of work to do and it will take all of us. Despite more than half a century of regulation, more than half of all Americans still live in areas that are regularly exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution. And they don’t all look like the L.A.s or Pittsburghs of the mid-century. All of us living in Indianapolis and much of Central Indiana fall into that “more than half of all Americans exposed to unhealthy air” statistic.

The EPA’s official theme for Air Quality Awareness Week 2016 is Show How You Care About the Air.

This week (and the whole month of May) is chock-full of opportunities to do just that. This week also marks the beginning of National Bike Month and National Walking Month. May 5th is International Asthma Day and the 20th is Bike to Work Day. Keep your eyes and ears - and social feeds - open, because we’ll be sharing information and activities for all of these. And, of course, there are 1,000 things you can do any day of the year to contribute to better air quality in Central Indiana.

Show how you care about the air. Get involved. Visit Knozone.com for ideas on how to get started.