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Environmental Protection Act 1990 Summary

image of graph highlighting decreased voc emissions to annual vehicle miles traveledThese air quality improvements have enabled many areas of the country to meet national air quality standards set to protect public health and the environment. For example, all of the 41 areas that had unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide in 1991 now have levels that meet the health-based national air quality standard. A key reason is that the motor vehicle fleet is much cleaner because of Clean Air Act emissions standards for new motor vehicles.

Airborne lead pollution, a widespread health concern before EPA phased out lead in motor vehicle gasoline under Clean Air Act authority, now meets national air quality standards in most areas of the country.

State emission control measures to implement the Act, as well as EPA's national emissions standards, have contributed to air quality improvements.

Because of the Act, Americans breathe less pollution and face lower risks of premature death and other serious health effects.

A peer-reviewed EPA study issued in March 2011 found that the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 are achieving large health benefits that will grow further over time as programs take full effect.

Image showing an industrial complex in Tacoma, WA 1972This chart shows the health benefits of Clean Air Act programs that reduce levels of fine particles and ozone.

Health Effect Reductions (PM2.5 & Ozone Only)Pollutant(s)Year 2010Year 2020

PM2.5 Adult Mortality


160, 000

230, 000

PM2.5 Infant Mortality




Ozone Mortality


4, 300

7, 100

Chronic Bronchitis


Image map of ozone hole reduction in 201254, 000

75, 000

Acute Bronchitis


130, 000

180, 000

Acute Myocardial Infarction


130, 000

200, 000

Asthma Excaberation


1, 700, 000

2, 400, 000

Hospital Admissions

PM, Ozone

86, 000

135, 000

Emergency Room Visits

PM, Ozone

86, 000

120, 000

Restricted Activity Days

PM, Ozone

84, 000, 000

110, 000, 000

School Loss Days


Hazy day at Great Smoky Mountains National Park3, 200, 000

5, 400, 000

Lost Work Days


13, 000, 000

17, 000, 000

  • The 2011 report did not include the large benefits of the pre-1990 Clean Air Act. A peer-reviewed 1997 EPA Report to Congress reviewed the benefits of the Act from 1970 to 1990, and concluded that in 1990 alone, pollution reductions under the Act prevented 205, 000 early deaths, 10.4 million lost I.Q. points in children due to lead exposure, and millions of other cases of health effects.
  • Independent scientific research shows that reductions in air pollution are associated with widespread public health benefits. For example, one study found that reductions in fine particle pollution between 1980 and 2000 in U.S. cities led to improvements in average life expectancy at birth of approximately seven months.

Environmental damage from air pollution is reduced.

  • Lower air pollution levels mean less damage to the health of ecosystems, though many effects are hard to quantify.
  • Environmental effects of air pollution include damage to plants and long-term forest health, soil nutrient deterioration, accumulation of toxics in the food chain, damage to fish and other aquatic life in lakes and streams, and nitrogen enrichment of coastal estuaries causing oxygen depletion and resulting harm to fish and other aquatic animal populations.
  • Reducing air pollution also improves crop and timber yields, a benefit worth an estimated $5.5 billion to those industries' welfare in 2010, according to the peer-reviewed . Better visibility conditions in 2010 from improved air quality in selected national parks and metropolitan areas had an estimated value of $34 billion.

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