History. America was predominantly a rural culture
as the twentieth century began. Most Americans lived on
farms and in small towns within 50 miles of their birthplaces.
An industrial economy was about to uproot them. Yet to arrive
were revolutionizing developments as radio, movies, the
family car, and airplanes. Industrialization and urbanization
on an unanticipated scale were on the horizon.
would be located in cities which became magnets for immigrant
workers. Assembly lines and mass production of goods would
offer urban jobs and cheaper products. Giant corporations
were beginning to depersonalize working relationships, pressing
children into work in mines, mills, and factories at cheap
wages, squeezing out small businesses.
trends spawned the Progressive Era in which the Progressives
improved social conditions in industrial urban society and
conserved western wilderness.
For the first time thoughtful citizens focused on abating
mounting air, water, noise, and refuse pollution.
This was accomplished at the municipal level through reform
sometimes initiated by muckraking journalists. Cities
hired professional planners and others to address the problems.
Smoke ordinances were enacted and passed court challenges.
Nuisance law was the order of the day. As time passed,
however, and industrial activity expanded enormously, the
common-law nuisance approach of balancing risks and
benefits case-by-case proved inadequate to the challenge.
Sources and where.
In West Virginia major air pollution sources are
industries - chemical, power plants, and other
manufacturers - and motor vehicles. These manufacturing
plants and power plants are congregated in river valleys,
where the stte's major cities are located.
Along the Ohio River
significant air pollution emissions originate from surrounding
states and emigrate to West Virginia. The stench of Kanawha
Valley chemical plants are an ever-present fact of life
as are the heavy smells of steel mills in Weirton and Wheeling.
Anyone who visited Henry Louis (Skip) Gates, Jr.'s hometown
of Piedmont, when the pulp mill was going full blast, experienced
an aroma that seemed to be everywhere. Across the Big
Sandy River near Huntington winds from the west commonly
bring a variety of odors and fallouts. "Snow"
is what residents of "Chemical Valley"
(Kanawha Valley) call the latter.
Acid rain (acidic
rain) resulting from emissions of coal-fired power plants
affects trees at higher elevations and makes its way into
streams and rivers. The precursors of acid rain are
nitric oxide and sulfur dioxide. [Acid rain is discussed
in the Forests section of this web site.]
A 2000 EPA computer modeling
study of a couple of dozen toxic air pollutants in
the state using 1996 data describes four sources of toxic
pollutants: area (40%) - such as small businesses;
on-road mobile (31%) - largely motor vehicles; major
(17%) - large industries; and non-road mobile
(12%). The most prevalent toxic emissions were benzene (30%),
formaldehyde (29%), acetaldehyde (17%), 1,3- butadiene (6%),
and methylene chloride (4%). Note: This study is less comprehensive
than the annual Toxic Release Inventory (TRI).
Ohio River Valley.
Air pollution along the Ohio River is worse than on the
East Coast, not in terms of peak exposures but through sustained
exposure. "Power plants that line the Ohio
River Valley create a blanket of smog that covers the region."
So says a February 2000 report entitled "OhioValley
Ozone Alley - Smog Pollution and Power Plants In The Ohio
River Valley: What Can Be Done." OVEC was one of three
sponsors of the report. Computer modeling showed that
coal-fired power plants in the Ohio Valley are the major
source of ozone in the valley.
Mixing. In sections of West Virginia
where a variety of manufacturing plants exist, multiple
emissions into the air mix and interact, forming
new compounds. This is a common occurrence in areas bordering
the Ohio River where intrastate regulation has its limitations.
Determining point sources of emissions in an interstate
setting is challenging, to say the least.
Last updated on Saturday, March 24, 2001