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... Or Where Things Stand on Air Pollution Control

The spoken-word epilog to the Moody Blues 1967 mega-hit "Nights in White Satin" included the phrase "Breathe deep the gathering gloom." They meant it metaphorically, but today it seems to be taking on an unfortunate literal meaning. Is today's air quality a cause for gloom and doom? Is breathing the outdoor air becoming as risky as smoking stogies made from Chernobyl brand tobacco?

In its 2003 Draft Report on the Environment, the US Environmental Protection Agency noted that air quality has gotten much better since implementation of the Clean Air Act in 1970. That's true, but the data in the report also shows that the big improvements all came in the first two decades of the period. Since 1990, the aggregate amount of major pollutants in the air has remained relatively flat—despite passage of major changes to the Clean Air Act in 1990. And even though the air is cleaner than it was in the 1970s, it's still not "clean."

In 2002, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a 16-year study on the effects of air pollution on human picture of smog and industrial air pollution health. The study, which was primarily funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), found that in some metropolitan areas, exposure to high concentrations of soot and dust from cars, power plants, and factories significantly increases residents' risk of dying from lung cancer or heart disease. The researchers said the increased risk was comparable to that of nonsmokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke over a long period of time.

Although this is certainly not good news, it does not mean that we have to be gloomy when we breathe deep. There ARE solutions, such as:

  • moving electricity production towards cleaner and more sustainable technologies such as wind power and solar
  • ensuring that other sources of industrial air pollution are properly controlled
  • reducing vehicle emissions and increasing gas-mileage standards

These are important issues for the politicians and regulators to work on, but there are a couple of things the average Joe or Jane can do:

  • You may be able to purchase some of your electricity from low- or no-pollution alternative energy sources. Check with your power company.
  • If you're in the market for a new car, making gas mileage and emissions a prime consideration will reduce your personal share of emissions and send a message to car makers that you care about these things at least as much as where they put the cupholders or what silly names they've thought up for their car colors. (And by the way, we're torn between the "bright cerulean" and the "off-shamrock.")


Publish date: 25-SEP-2003


One of the problematic components of emissions from coal-fired power plants is mercury. The EPA is planning to begin regulating power-plant mercury emissions; however, the regulations are unlikely to eliminate mercury emissions altogether, and they won't take effect until 2005 at the earliest. Meanwhile, coal-fired power plants are pumping over 50 tons of toxic mercury into your breathing air every year.


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Songs for a Better Planet

Pinprick holes in a colorless sky
Let insipid figures of light pass by...
Brave Helios wake up your steeds,
Bring the warmth the countryside needs.

Song: "The Day Begins"

Artist: The Moody Blues

Album: Days of Future Passed

Category: Progressive Rock


book cover for The Moody Blues, Days of Future Passed "Days of Future Passed" was the album that started the Moody Blues on the path to cosmic greatness. Before that, they had released an album of popish blues-based tunes, much like the Rolling Stones, Beatles, and other Brit groups did early in their careers. Despite the success of the hit song "Go Now" on the Moodies' first album, they decided that type of music was the past, not the future. They changed a couple of band members, put on their thinking caps, and came up with something radically different—Days of Future Passed. Recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, the album weaves its way through a conceptual day, melodically and lyrically portraying a fascinating range of activities and emotions. On the strength of the two mega-hits on the album—"Tuesday Afternoon" and "Nights in White Satin"—and the inventiveness of the concept, the album became very popular and confirmed for the Moody Blues that progressive rock was their forte. Even after nearly 40 years, because of its cohesive theme, strong songs, and interwoven musical passages, Days of Future Passed remains one of the best concept albums of all time. And it has that spooky but cool "Gathering Gloom" song mentioned in the Eco-logical!

Get more reviews, hear clips, or get purchase info for this album at

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"We've got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need?"

— Lee Iacocca,
CEO/Chairman, Chrysler Corp., 1979-1992


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