History of air pollution

The origin of air pollution on the earth can be traced from the times when man started using firewood as a means of cooking and heating. Hippocrates has mentioned air pollution in 400 BC. With the discov ery and increasing use of coal, air pollution became more pronounced especially in urban areas. It was recognized as a problem 700 years ago in London in the form of smoke pollution, which prompted King Edward I to make the first antipollution law to restrict people from using coal for domestic heating in the year 1273.

In the year 1300 another Act banning the use of coal was passed. Defying the law led to imposition of capital punishment. In spite of this air pollution became a serious problem in London during the industrial revolution due to the use of coal in industries. The earliest recorded major disaster was the ‘London Smog’ that occurred in 1952 that resulted in more than 4000 deaths due to the accumulation of air pollutants over the city for five days.

In Europe, around the middle of the 19th century, a black form of the Peppered moth was noticed in industrial areas. Usually the normal Peppered moth is well camouflaged on a clean lichen covered tree. However the peppered pattern was easily spotted and picked up by birds on the smoke blackened bark of trees in the industrial area, while the black form remained well camouflaged.

Thus while the peppered patterned moths were successful in surviving in clean non-industrial areas, the black colored moths were successful in industrial areas. With the spread of industrialization, it has been observed that the black forms are not only see in Peppered moth, but also in many other moths. This is a classic case of pollution leading to adaptation.

Air pollution began to increase in the beginning of the twentieth century with the development of the transportation systems and large-scale use of petrol and diesel. The severe air quality problems due to the formation of photo chemical smog from the combustion residues of diesel and petrol engines were felt for the first time in Los Angeles. Pollution due to auto-exhaust remains a serious environmental issue in many developed and developing countries including India.

The Air Pollution Control Act in India was passed in 1981 and the Motor Vehicle Act for controlling the air pollution, very recently. These laws are intended to prevent air from being polluted. The greatest industrial disaster leading to serious air pollution took place in Bhopal where extremely poisonous methyl isocyanide gas was accidentally released from the Union Carbide’s pesticide manufacturing plant on the night of December 3rd 1984. The effects of this disaster on human health and the soil are felt even to day.

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