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Release Date: 08/07/2000
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EPA today released its annual air quality trends report showing that air quality nationally continues to improve. Even so, in 1999, 62 million Americans lived in areas that had unhealthy air for at least one of six major pollutants.

“Americans have made significant progress in improving our air quality and protecting public health, but real challenges still remain,” said EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner. “That is why the Clinton-Gore Administration has taken major actions to reduce air pollution that will have benefits for decades to come. Those actions include requiring the cleanest cars, SUVs, trucks and gasoline ever produced, and controlling windblown smog through the first-ever strategy designed to protect air quality throughout much of the Eastern United States. And, we will do more to ensure continued air quality improvements.”

Overall, national air quality levels have shown improvement for six major pollutants since the 1970 Clean Air Act was signed into law. Those pollutants are smog, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, or soot. Yet air pollution remains a problem in many areas, including rural areas and some national parks, which have experienced high smog levels of resulting from pollution emitted many miles away.

The most recent 10 year period shows the following nationwide improvements in air quality (1990-1999):
  • Carbon monoxide concentrations decreased 36 percent;
  • Lead concentrations decreased 60 percent;
  • Nitrogen dioxide concentrations decreased 10 percent;
  • Smog concentrations decreased 4 percent;
  • Particulate matter concentrations decreased 18 percent; and
  • Sulfur dioxide concentrations decreased 36 percent.

Air pollution can cause a variety of health problems, from burning eyes and irritated throats, to birth defects, brain and nerve damage to long-term damage to the lungs. Ozone, for example, can irritate the respiratory system, aggravate asthma and inflame the lining of the lung. And a recent study showed a connection between particulate matter in the air and both mortality and hospitalizations in major U.S. cities.

The Clinton-Gore Administration has taken a number of major steps to reduce air pollution and protect public health and the environment:
  • In December 1999, the Administration announced new tailpipe emission standards for cars, SUVs, mini-vans and pickup trucks, to take effect beginning in 2004, that are up to 95 percent cleaner than current standards and new gasoline standards that will reduce sulfur levels by 90 percent.
  • On April 22, 1999, Vice President Gore announced a plan to restore visibility in national parks and federal wilderness areas.
  • In May, the Administration won an important victory in court, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld EPA’s first-of-its-kind rule for reducing the regional transport of smog throughout the Eastern United States.
  • And the Administration now is moving ahead with its rules for cleaner buses and heavy duty trucks. When those rules are completed by the end of this year, heavy trucks and buses will be required to run as cleanly as vehicles that run on natural gas.

The report released today is a summary version of the longer Air Quality Trends report that EPA has issued in the past. Additional detailed information is available at:

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