What has the Clean Air Act done for you lately? (The answer: A LOT)


1970: Congress passed the Clean Air Act and created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

1990: The Clean Air Act Amendments expanded the original law.

But what does this mean today? What has the Clean Air Act accomplished?


On average, levels of the 6 main tracked air pollutants have decreased. Percentages below reflect 1990 – 2015 change.

  • Particles: Down by 39%
  • Ozone: Down by 22%
  • Lead: Down by 99%
  • Carbon Monoxide: Down by 77%
  • Nitrogen Dioxide: Down by 47%
  • Sulfur Dioxide: Down by 81%



A significant number of deaths and a staggering number of illnesses were prevented by the Clean Air Act.

  • Adult Mortality: 160,000 deaths prevented
  • Infant Mortality: 230 deaths prevented
  • Chronic Bronchitis: 54,000 cases prevented
  • Acute Bronchitis: 130,000 cases prevented
  • Asthma Exacerbation: 1,700,000 cases prevented


This has substantially increased U.S. worker productivity because 13 million workdays were not lost due to air pollution-influenced afflictions. Using the same formula for monetization of productivity loss detailed in this report by the National Center for Biotechnology Information to capture health-related productivity loss (multiplying the number of days lost by the average hourly wage plus benefits of $29.18 for U.S. civilian workers, using 8 hour days and the cost to an employer multiplier of 1.61), we can see that U.S. employers have saved $4.9 billion.


A common objection to environmental regulation is that it hurts the economy. Despite the savings just identified, we can also see that the overall GPA did not decline during the time period when EPA enforcement of the Clean Air Act improved air quality and decreased pollutant emissions. (Source: epa.gov)



While the average air quality has drastically improved, there are still many counties where air quality is abysmal. The EPA estimates 127 million people live in counties with ground ozone levels above the national standard.


Are you interested in more information? The EPA has some fascinating tools and data.

Take a look at the Air Quality Index.

Compare your city to others.

Check out the monitors that collect air quality data.

Review air emissions inventories. 





Additional Sources

Air Quality – National Summary

Status and Trends of Key Air Pollutants

Benefits and Costs of the Clean Air Act 1990 – 2020, the Second Prospective Study